Stellar Eller: Winning the Game of Life & Sport

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (March 26, 2015)

If ever there were real-life parity for the hit movie series of The Hangover, it’s Glenn Eller.  In knowing him, you don’t have to stretch the imagination much to envision nights full of debauchery, sordid tales full of raunchy humor and non-stop laughs.  

 Those tales are best left untold.  But then there’s the other side.  The counter to all of that is the Glenn Eller that is an Olympic champion in Double Trap and the first American male in the shotgun discipline to make five Olympic Teams in his career. The antithesis of all the shenanigans is having friends, teammates and competitors revere you for your friendship and speak with respect and admiration of all that you’ve accomplished and the man you are. 

Those closest to the Katy, Texas native use words like loyal, smart, devoted, benevolent and unique.   

“As a friend, Glenn is in your corner at all times,” said former Double Trap shooter and two-time Olympic Team leader Dwayne Weger.  “He is that guy who absolutely would give you the shirt off his back.  Glenn is Glenn. He is hard-headed, stubborn as a mule, a mathematical genius, a perfectionist and one of the best friends a guy could have!” 

You call that the overshadowing of any flaws.  

Asked if all the fun he’s had doing what he does has cost him, Eller quickly discredits any notion. “No, if I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, I wouldn’t be doing it.  If you can’t go out there and have a little fun while you’re doing something, why do it?  But when it’s time for the match, it’s time for the match.  If you can’t have dinner and hang out with friends, why bother? You can sit at your house and do nothing.  I’ve learned just as much from hanging out with friends and competitors as anything else in this game.” 

The achievements on his career resumé would not suggest any hindrance.  For 17 years, he’s been at the top or near it, recording 14 World Cup medals since 2001, two World Championship crowns and four World Champ medals overall to go along with an Olympic gold medal and three other opportunities.    

“Glenn is one of the most unique people that I have ever met,” said two-time Olympic gold medalist and former U.S. Army teammate Vincent Hancock.  “He’s one of the smartest individuals I know and on top of that, he’s one of the best shooters I have ever seen. He and I share a very similar shooting style in how we approach the target as well as the fit of our shotguns. This lends itself perfectly for he and I to discuss different perspectives on targets even though we don’t shoot the same game. He has been a friend of mine for over 10 years now and I can honestly say that I don’t know many people that I can trust or talk to the way I do him. He will go down as one of the best athletes this sport has ever seen, and it’s a pleasure as well as an honor to call him my friend and teammate.”  

In 1996, Eller was the first American to win the prestigious British Open Sporting Clay title. He began shooting at eight years old under the direction of Jay Herbert. He has also trained with Olympian Dan Carlisle, who, along with his family, is who he credits for all he’s achieved in the sport.  

Eller made his Olympic debut in 2000 at the age of 18, but came down with food poisoning, courtesy of an Australian ham salad sandwich, and tied for 12th. In 2004, a year in which he vowed to avoid culinary mishaps by sticking to McDonald’s food in Athens, he was 17th after being informed before the competition of what proved to be a false positive drug test. 

Eller’s first uneventful Olympics resulted in his first gold medal in 2008. But the shotgun he used to win the gold medal was lost en route to a March 2011 event in Chile, and he struggled while adapting to a new gun. He lost the automatic U.S. slot in Double Trap to his Army teammate, Staff Sgt. Josh Richmond, but won a place on the team when a second berth for the London Games opened up in the spring of 2012.   

He struggled mightily in London, finishing 22nd, which he believes was the result of a hastened opportunity to train properly, given the rush and exhaustion that came in just making the team as late as he did.  

This time is different the 34-year-old Eller asserts.  He assured his participation in a fifth Olympic Games back in September with a sixth-place finish at the World Championships in Lonato, Italy.  Eller earned the Olympic nomination through USA Shooting’s Olympic Points System, a standard set-up to recognize and reward significant individual achievement during the 2015 season.  Eller knew he had to earn a spot in the Finals to seal another Olympic run.  With that Olympic possibility looking distant after his first three rounds having dropped 10 targets, he’d turn it up during his final two rounds by dropping just one lone target in each.  His mission was incomplete still until he was one of the two shooters to advance during a three-person shoot-off to advance to Finals.          

Eller’s Olympic return was boosted by an intense practice session that followed a disappointing finish at the Pan American Games in July.  Not pleased with a Pan Am performance that saw him finish fourth, Eller put in even more training time than usual in lead-up to World Cup Gabala (Azerbaijan). His father, Butch, estimates he probably went through 6,000 targets during that intensive training spell with many days leading to exhaustion by day’s end.  The pay-off included a win in Gabala, which catapulted Eller into position to secure an Olympic bid.    

“When I made the Olympic Team in Lonato, I got in the shower that night and just started laughing,” Eller states.  “Like holy crap, who would have thought that I would have made five Olympic Teams in a row. On that day it was a highlight, but the next day I was like ‘now it’s time to get ready, help my teammates prepare and make sure whoever my teammate is it’s the best teammate I can have, no matter who it is.’  And then we go out and kick some you-know-what in Rio.” 

His success is paved from his own smarts, dedication and competitiveness along with the brotherhood he’s etched with friends and competitors at the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU).   

To combat his weaknesses last year, he decided that he needed a more flexible system that would allow him to train on those areas. To do that, he decided to use his mental ability to build a new computer that would allow him to control all targets coming out of the bunker. That way he can simulate any and all potential scenarios that he might come across at any range in the world. To build the computer, he had to teach himself to write computer code and he had to learn all of the ins-and-outs of electronic assembly. Keep in mind, that he had no training or background in those areas. He simply taught himself. 

When he was done with his computer, he had written over 4,000 lines of code and assembled a computer box that basically will work on any range in the world. While he was at it, he decided to go ahead and write the code to control Trap targets as well.  

“Glenn is one of the smartest guys I know. He is very aware of his weaknesses and his strengths,” Weger acknowledged in telling the above story.  “The level of dedication to his craft is second to none.” 

“As a competitor, he lives for shooting. He is a student of the game, and spends hours and hours training and figuring out better ways to train and make his game better,” echoed his close personal friend, Mike Balke. “I have been around many parents who openly say their son or daughter is going to the next Olympics.  It makes me chuckle because you may know how to point that gun and be a good shot, but getting to the level of a Glenn, a Vincent Hancock, or a Kim Rode you need a bit more than just being a good gun pointer. You need to be that student and know the game; know how it works and how to train, and have the mental toughness that comes with it all. He is not a five-time Olympian just because he is lucky.”  

Looking to instill more discipline, find more opportunity and train alongside the best, he joined the Army in 2006. 

“My dad hung up on me,” Staff Sgt. Eller laughs when describing his parent’s reaction at the time. “My mom cried, but I told her, ‘Mom, I finally got a job at least.’ She didn’t think that was funny.” 

Frankly, it’s the best decision he’s ever made. In an individual sport, it is Eller’s teammates that have driven him to his greatest successes and vice versa.  The ability to train and compete alongside fellow Olympians Josh Richmond and Jeff Holguin, as well as rising star Derek Haldeman, is a powerful motivator. The trio of Eller, Richmond and Holguin have combined for 34 World Cup medals, nine World Championship medals and five World titles.    

“Anytime I go shoot a bad round and they [his USAMU teammates] whip you and are shooting good, you want to know why they are whipping you. You want to figure out how to beat them,” Eller admits. “With each of their successes, you’re happy for them, but at the same time, you’re like ‘I want to win.’ In this room, we expect ourselves to be the best.  When one of us wins, we all win, but we all want to take something away from that.  If you’ve never been around a winning culture, it’s kind of hard to break through that. When everyone you hang out with wins on a regular basis, you know that winning is possible and you expect that.  We’re successful because of each other.” 

He thanks the USAMU for the opportunity given.  “When I first got into the Army, it gave me the structure I needed. The Army was instrumental to me winning in Beijing.  Now, I’m the most experienced guy in the room with guys coming to me for answers. The USAMU now gives me the stability to train when I need to and the flexibility to train how I need to.” 

The Olympic journey has meant everything to Eller.  He recalls fondly the day he arrived at the Olympic Village in Sydney. “It’s my best memory and what has kept driving me all these years,” he recounts.  “We pulled up and there’s 10,000 athletes running around from all the different countries and I just recall how awesome it was to be pulling in there. Having that feeling, it’s hard to think what it would be like if I ever missed an Olympic Team. I don’t think I’d be able to watch it, not knowing what I know now.” 

Rest assured, he won’t have to contemplate such a scenario this time around and he’s not lacking any motivation to ascend to the top of his game once again in Rio.  “I still love winning and competing. I love being great at something.  It’s the Olympic Games, who wouldn’t love going?  I love being able to get ready, be prepared, travel, have a great competition and be the best.” 

Sure, there’s an untold story in the biography that is Eller’s life. Every person spoken to about this story says as much. Some things are best left to the imagination.  

To summarize, however, let’s just say that in pursuit of life, Eller found excellence.   

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