Collegians Higgins & Thrasher Rule Rifle Olympic Selection; Shi Dominates Free Pistol During 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials

FORT BENNING, Georgia (April 4, 2016)

The unexpected happened Monday as pair of collegiate rifle athletes declared that they are Rio bound while an unassuming pistol competitor earned his ticket as well.  Anything can happen during Olympic Team Trials, and on Monday it did.

Dreams came true Monday for Air Force Academy senior David Higgins (San Clemente, California), West Virginia University freshman Ginny Thrasher (Springfield, Virginia) and 37-year-old Jay Shi (Phoenix, Arizona) in winning the 2016 Olympic Team Trials for Smallbore (.22 caliber) in their respective events during competition at the U.S. Army Marksmanship (USAMU) in Fort Benning, Georgia.  Winning brought about other challenges for each, but ones they’ll take in stride with Rio now in sight.

These Trials consist of three straight days of competition for each event, featuring three Qualifiers and three separate Finals. Each day’s qualifying scores and points from the event Finals are added to each competitor’s score to get a cumulative total. Two additional pistol team slots will be handed out Friday in Women’s Sport and Men’s Rapid Fire. 

All Olympic Team nominations are subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee.

Men’s Prone Rifle Recap

The biggest surprise came in the Men’s Prone Rifle event where David Higgins (San Clemente, California) erased an 11-point margin against arguably one of the sport’s all-time greats in Matt Emmons (Browns Mills, New Jersey). He did so by shooting a career best on the pressure-packed day with a qualification score of 629.5 while Emmons struggled to a mark of 616.8 that left him out of the Final. Higgins score was so big he had earned the nomination before the Finals even began, but that didn’t stop him from finishing in style with a win there too. 

“I was looking at the very real potential of this being my last match in this event, so I knew I just had to go out, have some fun and really enjoy it,” said Higgins. “I don’t know what got into me. I went out and shot a personal best, did a great job in the Finals, and it all just came together. I love shooting Prone on the big stage, it’s just a lot of fun. Getting to shoot at the Olympics is going to be super exciting for me!”

“He did a great job, we’re all so proud of him,” said Air Force Academy assistant coach and two-time Olympian Mike Anti. “He had a good match, a great first two days, but the third day was just amazing. He put it all together. He’s been working hard. He got a new gun a few weeks ago and has been working out positions with that, but it just kind of all came together. It’s just really exciting. He did a great job representing the Air Force Academy in an outstanding manner.”

Higgins now has some work to do to get ready for his August appointment including a talk with the Marine Corps leadership.  He’ll graduate from the Academy June 2 and then gets commissioned to the Marine Corps where he was supposed to start June 28.  Those summer plans have been significantly altered as a result of great Trials performance.

He’ll join 2012 Olympian Michael McPhail (USAMU/Darlington, Wisconsin) in the event. McPhail qualified through the Olympic Points System based on his performances internationally in 2015.

Despite not making today’s Final and finishing second, Emmons still will compete in Rio after having already made the U.S. Olympic Team in Three-Position Rifle and he may make a run at one of the two Air Rifle spots still available during the Olympic Trials for Airgun in early June.  USAMU Sergeant First Clay Hank Gray (Belgrade, Montana) finished third.

Women’s Three-Position Rifle Recap

It’s going to be hard to beat the accomplishments teenager Ginny Thrasher has earned the past 25 days including: NCAA Smallbore National champion March 11; NCAA Air Rifle National champion March 12; Olympian April 4.  

It’s been an improbable climb that began last summer at USA Shooting Nationals with a five-medal performance including two open and three junior medals.  With a ticket to Rio now secure, it’s not likely ending anytime soon either.  

Last month, she became the first freshman in NCAA history to sweep both individual rifle titles in helping lead the Mountaineers to an 18th national championship.  Now, she becomes just the third WVU female rifle athlete to represent the United States at the Olympics, and the first since 2000 Olympian Jean Foster. Foster also competed at the 1996 Olympic Games. Ann-Marie Pfiffner was the first WVU female rifle athlete to represent the United States at the 1992 Olympic Games.   

“I’m incredibly excited to have made the 2016 Olympic Team,” Thrasher said. “This year has been a whirlwind for me, and to end my freshman season with a trip to Rio is very gratifying. It was a tough three days of competition, but I was able to stay focused on my process so I could shoot to the best of my abilities. I definitely feel that my recent experience at the NCAA Championships helped me this weekend.” 

A native of Springfield, Virginia, Thrasher entered today’s competition with a comfortable lead, having shot 585 on Saturday followed by 589 Sunday. Thrasher also earned 15 additional points, as she placed second in Saturday’s final and first in Sunday’s final. She put her three-day total at 1781 with a first place, 586 showing today; she also earned six additional points with a third-place finish in today’s final. 

“It’s been an incredible year for Ginny, and I knew she was certainly capable of shooting the way she did this weekend,” WVU coach Jon Hammond said. “I don’t think qualifying for the Olympics was something she thought about a whole lot – she just wanted to shoot her best. There were a lot of great athletes at this event. Given the year Ginny has had, I don’t think today is a surprise. She was not the favorite, but she earned this Olympic spot. This is a lot for her to take in – this is a huge accomplishment.” 

Asked what she’ll do to celebrate and the 19-year-old said that she’s going back to Morgantown to try and pass a calculus exam she has on Tuesday.  

Thrasher was among 16 shooters vying for one Olympic roster spot for the women’s 50m 3-position.  Sarah Scherer (Woburn, Massachusetts), a 2012 Olympic finalist in Air Rife, finished second overall, nine points back.  Sarah Beard (Danville, Indiana) was third despite winning two of the three event finals. A day two stumble in which she did not make the final ultimately cost the reigning national champion.  

Men’s Free Pistol Recap

Jay Shi earned the lone Team nomination available in Men’s Free Pistol with his dominating final day performance in the competition. In Monday’s Qualification match, Shi shot 565 – nine points above his nearest competitor and a score that would place him in most World Cup Finals – to extend his lead to 26 points.

“I thought I had a chance before the competition, but I had to block that out because it would ruin the whole thing,” Shi said. “I realized I made the Team when my dad shook my hand and said I had made it and that was it! It hasn’t hit me yet - I feel like I’m still in competition mode. I’ve been working on this a long 10 years and it’s been a long rollercoaster, up and down. It will probably hit me when I go to bed tonight or something. I just had to focus on the competition and block everything else out but inside, I’m really excited.”

A native of Beijing, Shi suffered an injury to his right eye at the age of 11. Seeking proper medical care for the damage, his parents moved to the United States and settled in Phoenix. Prohibited from shooting firearms as an adolescent, Shi found a different outlet: archery. The skills acquired in that sport – exacting precision, mental focus and the muscle memory and control needed to repeat the actions necessary for shooting success – transferred well into competitive pistol.

Shi works as a web developer in his adopted hometown. Competing at the Olympic Games in Rio will mark his first appearance on an Olympic Team, though he’s been working toward the goal for 10 years.

“I can’t celebrate too much tonight; I have to work tomorrow!” Shi said.  “Guess I have to talk to my boss, and hopefully when I come back there’s still a job there for me! I might take leave for a couple months, but don’t know how the boss will react to that. I told her I was coming here so hopefully it will work out.”

Will Brown (Twin Falls, Idaho) finished in second place and 2012 Olympian Nick Mowrer (Butte, Montana) finished in third place.

Shi won his first international medal when he won silver in Air Pistol at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada. He, along with much of the field in the Men’s Free Pistol competition, are favorites in Men’s Air Pistol. The final part of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for that event will take place June 3 – 5 in Camp Perry, Ohio.

For event pictures, click here.  For complete results, click here

Categories: Press Releases, 2016 Olympic Team Trials