By Ian Ransom

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - American archer Brady Ellison shot with the steely gaze of a game hunter but wept in relief after securing the men's individual bronze at the Olympics on Friday, having nearly tossed away the medal chance as he raged at himself for one errant arrow.

In a thrilling semi-final with the South Korean winner Ku Bon-chan, three-time Olympian Ellison was teetering on the brink of defeat but fired two perfect scores of 10 to take the match into a single-arrow tiebreak.

From there, it all went awry for the burly 27-year-old, who misread the wind on a gusty afternoon at the Sambadrome and sent his arrow sailing into the eight ring.

Ku's nervous response landed just inside the nine to advance him to the gold medal-decider, while Ellison fumed as Korean fans roared in the terraces.

"I just shot a bad shot," Ellison, red-faced after an mentally exhausting day, told reporters.

"We put on a show ... I was happy to stand up there and fight with him. It came to that one arrow in the shoot-off and I made a mistake and he didn’t."

Former world champion Ellison, who loves to hunt big game on American ranches, led the United States to team silver at Rio on Saturday and at London four years ago, but disappointed in the individual events at previous Games.

Having long craved an elusive individual medal, he headed into the bronze playoff against Dutchman Sjef Van der Berg still berating himself about the tiebreak.

Van der Berg shot a wild six to help Ellison take the first set but the American fell in a hole in the second to fall back to 2-2.

"I was a little pissed off about shooting an eight in the shoot-off.

"That's kind of where my head was. I was thinking I should have been in the gold (match) and should have hit a good shot, kind of beating yourself up.

"Then you realize you're halfway through a bronze medal match at the Games. You kind of had to wake up and focus on where you are."

Ellison then charged to the podium, thumping three 10's in a row and a fourth in the decisive set to close out the match 6-2.

He wrapped up South Korea-born master coach Lee Ki-sik in a bear-hug and relished having a medal to display in his trophy room, if not quite the color hoped for.

"It’s still an Olympic medal," he said.

"It means a lot to be able to wear this around my neck.

"I've been through a lot. You don't know how tough you are until tough is going on."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)