Mack Brown taking ‘partial’ retirement, switching to compound

USA's Mackenzie Brown in the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup Final

Two-time Olympian Mackenzie Brown announced this week on social media she would be switching from recurve to compound, a decision she admitted would be a “shock” to some.

“In 2021 I achieved what I wanted to achieve – I competed to my best,” said Brown to World Archery from her home, just north of Pittsburgh, USA. 

“When it comes to comes down to it, I went out and did the best that any US woman has done on the World Cup stages, and my performance at the Olympic Games was the best since Khatuna [Lorig] in 2012.”

This past season saw Brown finish fourth in the individual event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and end the year up in fifth in the world rankings, jumping 55 places after a silver and bronze in the first and third stages of the Hyundai Archery World Cup, respectively, plus a fifth at the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final.

That performance at Tokyo 2020, which saw Brown lose to Italy’s Lucilla Boari for bronze after a phenomenal battle in the semifinal – a tight defeat to eventual champion An San – highlighted her medal potential and with Paris 2024 just over two years away, the USA archer acknowledged that some would be shocked by her decision not to try for the podium in France.

“A lot of people would say ‘go to the next one and win a medal’,” said the 26-year-old. “But I’m very pleased with my performance and I feel like there’s nothing I’m leaving on the table. I did my best and I’m very happy with my success there [in Japan].”

USA's Mackenzie Brown in Guatemala City at Stage 1 of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup

Is this the end of a career for Brown with her recurve? A home Olympic Games in Los Angeles loom only six years away, after all.

“For now, that’s the plan,” said the Texas-born athlete. “It’s a… partial retirement. I’m not going to be shooting any World Cups or any national events. I’m not going to take going to the Olympic Games again off the table, but I don’t know.”

“There’s a chance that I could change my mind. I don’t want people to think ‘oh, she’s randomly coming back’, but as of right now, I’m retiring from recurve archery.”

Off of the archery field, 2021 was also a busy year for Brown. She got engaged and then married partner and fellow compound archer, Zach Prugh, in Tennessee just before Christmas. Like all newlyweds, Brown admitted she is still getting used to calling her husband… ‘husband’ – but she has also found a ready-made coach in her new discipline.

“He was a competitive archer and he’s been teaching me quite a bit as far as what I need to know for those types of events,” explained Brown, who’s looking towards the professional 3D circuit in the USA.

“Compound is at the forefront now,” she said. She’s already started training for her new discipline. “None of the competitions shoot male and female [together], but we do have some friendly competition against each other whenever we're shooting rounds at the house or shooting in local competitions – we just compare scores and whoever wins get bragging rights.”

Many US-based archers grow up with the compound bow, linked to the hunting culture in the US. That’s not the case for Mackenzie.

“Most people that you see on the circuit have archery in their families; their parents are hunters or they shoot 3D,” explained Brown. “I didn’t start with hunting. None of my family was into archery or knew anything about that. I do have some extended family that bowhunted a little bit, but when my dad was young, he would be in shooting competitions with a gun, a rifle, but never archery. I was the first in my family to do that.”

She started at school with a simple compound at the age of 10 – but switched to recurve when her father found out it was the only style on the Olympic programme.

Having visited a professional 3D event before her ability with a recurve took her around the world with the US elite squad, she’s looking forward to returning to the perhaps less-intense atmosphere of the open entry domestic tour.

“Compound has its own set of skills and it’s definitely going to be a challenge to learn my way around that and how to compete at that level. The benefit I have is the mental side of things; knowing how to compete, knowing how to go to tournaments, but everything else is a learning curve, just like recurve was,” she said. “My goal is to just see what I’m capable of and that’s, honestly, where recurve started for me as well.”

USA's Mackenzie Brown in Guatemala City at Stage 1 of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup

Having dedicated herself to the Olympic pursuit for a decade it is, in Brown’s life, time for a change of pace – and to stay closer to home.

“International travel does take a toll. It’s awesome and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but at the same time it’s taxing on your body, on your mind and on your relationships with the people around you – you have to weigh that up,” she explained.

“Me getting married – I still have to live my life and that balance is very finicky. You’ve got to balance your life out pretty well to be able to do all of the things that come with archery.”

Whenever she talks, wherever she ends up shooting, throughout this interview, Brown’s love for the sport shone through.

“It’s almost a respect thing for me,” she said, thoughtfully. “I respect people who put in their time, their effort and their heart and soul into it. That's the same as other sports, but archery is unique in the sense that you've got the physical attributes [combined] with such a mental process, there’s just so many moving parts.”

“It all works together, like a circle,” she continued. “One part of your shot will affect the next part of your shot, which affects the next part of your shot – it’s like a puzzle and that’s really unique and cool.”

That respect was clearly reflected back by those she competed against, with many leaving messages of support publically on her social media.

If this really is our farewell to Mackenzie Brown, then what a way to go out. One of the performers of the Olympic Games, ending her career as the number-five-ranked archer in the world, arguably the most successful US recurve woman of the World Cup-era – and always fun to watch.