Every four years, Shooting emerges from the shadows and takes its place among the 26 sports fighting for the attention of billions. Misunderstood, under-recognized and somewhat ill-perceived, USA Shooting’s top stars clamor for their rightful place among the attention-grabbing headliners of Team USA.
Never before in the history of shooting had the prospect of doing so been within reach, but Sunday, July 28, in London, the eyes of the world were tracking every heart-pounding shot fired by a California dreamer named Kim Rhode as she re-wrote the annals of U.S. Olympic history by becoming the first American ever to win Olympic medals in five consecutive Olympic Games in an individual sport.
Rhode’s Olympic-defining moment would be the start of things to come for Team USA as they captured four medals overall, including three golds, and re-asserted USA Shooting’s position as one of the leading medal producers.
In gold medal production, the U.S. exceeded all other shooting teams since 1924, with the exception of one, the 1984 squad that won three as well but also didn’t have to compete against the tough USSR and East German shooters given their boycott of the Games.
Rhode, a silver medalist in 2008 in skeet, won her fifth medal in convincing fashion by setting a qualifying record by hitting 74 of 75 targets and then breaking the Olympic Finals record by hitting 99/100 targets overall. Rhode also competed in the Women’s Trap event and became the first shooter ever to compete in all three shotgun disciplines.
Skeet dominance was also showcased by Vincent Hancock who won the gold medal by setting both a qualifying Olympic record hitting 123 of 125 targets and then backing that up with a perfect 25/25 in the final for an Olympic record of 148/150 overall. Hancock became the first skeet shooter ever to win back-to-back gold medals in the event after winning the 2008 Olympic gold medal as well. First time Olympian, Frank Thompson, had a respectable showing and finished eighth in the event.
Entering with the reigning World Champion Josh Richmond and defending Olympic gold medalist Glenn Eller in Double Trap and with two gold medals already secure, confidence was brimming for Team USA. But an ominous beginning would shatter confidence and rattle nerves. Richmond finished in 16th place with a score of 131 while Eller finished 22nd with a 126.
In women’s trap, Corey Cogdell and Rhode, just missed on qualifying for the finals in the women’s trap event. Both shooters scored a 68 in the qualifying round and missed a shoot-off by just two points.
Jamie Gray went into the women’s 50-meter Three-Position competition after three consecutive events, two in Beijing and one in London, having missed the medal stand by only a few points.
After those close calls, Gray was able to take the next step and win an Olympic gold medal. Her last shot was more than a “good shot” for Gray as the 10.8 helped her set a final Olympic record of 691.9. Amanda Furrer missed out on the final round by two points, shooting a 581.
Eight years after a misfire in Athens, and four years after a tactical error in Beijing, Matt Emmons hit a mark on his final shot of the 50-meter Three-Position that put him on the medal stand. Emmons finished the competition with a score of 1,271.3 for the bronze medal. Also representing the U.S., Jason Parker finished in 30th place after posting a 1,159 in the qualifying round.
In the previous two Olympic Games, Emmons’ last shot knocked him off the medal stand. But this time Emmons was elated to cap off competition at an Olympic Games atop the medal stand.
Jonathan Hall finished 27th in Men's 10m Air Rifle with 592 points in his Olympic debut. Teammate Emmons was 35th with 590 points.
Michael McPhail shot 39 bulls-eyes over the course of 60 shots in the Men’s Prone event only to still be on the outside looking in after tying with nine other competitors for five spots in the finals.
With a five-shot shoot-off to determine the other five finalists, McPhail thought he was in great shape averaging a 10.26 throughout and never straying outside the 10-ring on any of the five shots. But his finals dream would be undone by three tenths of a point, mere fractions of inch.
Stepping onto the Olympic stage for the first time in 16 years, Eric Uptagrafft started slow and dropped four big points in the first two strings (20 shots) before connecting for perfect 10s on 38 of his last 40 shots. Finishing with a 594 overall, Uptagrafft would finish one point off the pace to join the field of the nine shoot-off competitors.
Women’s 10-meter Air Rifle took center stage among all Olympic sports on the first day of the Games. That spotlight included Gray and Sarah Scherer who advanced to the final eight competitors and finished fifth and seventh. Gray posted a score of 499.7, while Scherer had a 499 and marked only the second time the U.S. has advanced two shooters to the final in the event.
In Men's Rapid Fire Pistol action, Emil Milev and Keith Sanderson shot 288 and 290 respectfully in their second round. With equal totals of 578/600 over the two-day competition, they were not among the finalists.
Daryl Szarenski and Jason Turner were unable to advance out of the qualifying round in men's 10m air pistol competition. Szarenski shot 575 to finish 23rd, while Turner, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, shot a 569, which placed him 34th.
Sandra Uptagrafft finished in 28th overall in both events she competed in, the women's 10m air pistol, and 25m sport pistol where she shot scores of 378 and 576.
Nick Mowrer came up just short in his first Olympic competition in the Men’s 50-meter Free event while Szarenski walked off the range disappointed after a 28th place finish.
Mowrer shot a 558/600 and missed a shoot-off by one point for 15th overall position. Szarenski shot a 550 and finished in 28th place likely putting an end to the four-time Olympians competitive shooting career.
Photos courtesy of Sommer Wood/www.thecmp.org and Tim Hipps/U.S. Army IMCOM