“I’ll probably go back to compound.”

22 July, 2015

Photo: hdwpics.com

Brady Ellison vented his frustration to ESPN about the set system that saw him lose the gold medal match to Luis Alvarez in Toronto at the Pan-American Games, despite Alvarez failing to get an arrow off in time in the fourth set. Full details here:


“I outshot the guy by 11 points,” he said. “We’re a score-based system where you can miss and win — and that’s what happened. I don’t agree with it and it’s probably one of the reasons I’ll be done with this sport unless it changes. It’s kind of B.S. in my opinion. You can’t make that big a mistake in the gold-medal match and win. He shot well the other sets. But you miss and win, I disagree with that.”

The former No. 1-ranked archer and two-time Olympian said he might leave recurve archery after the 2016 Olympics if the scoring system doesn’t change:

“I’ve been thinking about it since we went to sets in the team rounds. It’s taken away our world records, and fun toward shooting,” Ellison said. “A lot of my contracts are up in 2016 so unless something changes or I get some really big contract, I’ll probably go back to compound.”

The quote from Luis Alvarez is worth reading:

“A lot of people said that a running score is better. Because I just missed a shot and I still win. How can an archer that missed one arrow win?” he said. “It’s two sides of the same coin. But in the end, the set system requires more concentration. If my shot was to miss, the other archer has no pressure because I already will lose by shooting a miss. But the set system helps you make a bad shot and recover in the next one and that’s more competitive.”

“Some archers say it’s not OK, some archers say it’s good. But in the end, competition is like that. It was good.”

This also sparked a lively discussion on the Infinite Curve Facebook page. I don’t have time to search through all Brady’s H2H matches for the last few years, but I find it difficult to believe that he’s never won a high-level match while still scoring less than his opponents. But maybe that’s the case.

Brady also makes a tennis analogy. It turns out that around five percent of professional men’s tennis matches since 1990 have been won despite the winner scoring less total points than the loser, because of the set system (it’s even possible to win a match winning less total games than the loser, if you won something like 0-6, 7-5, 7-5). This anomaly is referred to as Simpson’s Paradox, and there’s a particularly interesting article about it here.  Does anyone have the number crunching ability to track through IANSEO and see the proportion of H2H matches where this occurred? Would be very interesting to know.

The purpose of changing to a set system in H2H recurve matches was to improve archery as a spectator sport, of course – but that was a change that was agreed and tested with athletes. Brady Ellison is one of the biggest draws on the circuit, and has won three World Cup finals using the very same set system. I also know Brady rides the waves of his emotions, he’s the very opposite of a cool, machine-like shooter. That’s one of the things that make him a great sportsman and a great human being, and I suspect this outburst, no doubt shortly after the match, was born out of deep frustration at not quite achieving the incredibly high standards he sets himself.

6 comments on ““I’ll probably go back to compound.”

  1. IKJ

    The trouble when you start complaining about competition structure is where do you end?

    Yes he outscored Alvarez in the final, but by the same notion, why should Ellison win when he was outscored by Garrett and Klimitchek in the qualification round? Why is that not equally BS, if it’s a sport all about scores as he claims then surely everyone shoots the same number of arrows and highest score wins.

    Given that he clearly benefited from one quirk of the competition structure (the head to head) I don’t see how he can possibly whine about another quirk when it doesn’t work in his favour.

  2. cjccorn

    I’m with Luis – that’s the entire rationale behind the set system, that you can afford an ‘off’ arrow and still win. It’s more competitive, it’s more exciting, it’s more head-to-head, exactly what WA has been aiming for ever since introducing the knockout rounds. Perhaps if sets were longer (six arrow ends) or greater recognition were given (ranking points maybe?) to qualification round winners, there would be less cause for complaint.

  3. Marcel

    The problem lies in the definition of best archer. Do we want the best archer to win, or are we simply looking for a winner?

    If our definition of the best archer is he/she whoever wins the competition according to the current rules, then it is simple. Then, if a coin toss is used to determine the winner of each elimination round, the best archer still wins!?

    Or not? If we define the best archer as he or she who is able to shoot the smallest groups in the center of the target, things become different. Shooting arrows is also matter of luck (or statistics). No matter how good you are, you will still shoot a group (be it, for some archers a very small group) with some probability densitiy function. The archer who consistently shoots the smallest group should have the biggest chance to win the competition.

    I have been intrigued with this subject since the introduction of the set system. Last year, using Monte-Carlo simulations and the archers skill-level model developed by J.Park, I emulated several thousands of complete competitions. These competitions where based on actual results and actual archers-skill-level distributions from World-Cups over the last few years. Each competition had different rules (different number of arrows and different target faces and even different scoring zones).

    One thing that was very clear is that the archer with the higher skill level has a higher chance of ending up on top when a cummulative scoring elimination round was used opposed to when the set system was used. And this chance only increases if the number of arrows shot in a single elimination round is increased (from 12 to 15 or 18 arrow elimination rounds)

    We should ask ourselves; did we (for the sake of keeping the eliminations rounds exciting and very short in time) choose a format where the best archer wins, are we simply looking for a winner?


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