How the Rifle Olympic Trials Work, Part 1
Note: This is an unofficial "how it works" post. USA Shooting will have the officially official tale!
Shooting in the Olympics
There is a history of target shooting in the Olympics dating back to the first modern Games in Athens in 1896. According to Olympic.org, today marks the anniversary of that first Olympic Games, and if you are into American Olympic greatness, you will appreciate this story of the two brothers who dominated the first shooting events!
To keep this brief and allow me to speak about the world of competitive shooting that I grew up in, I'm only going to discuss the rifle events in the Olympics. There are also shotgun and pistol events (and the USA continues to do very well there, too!) all governed by the International Shooting Sport Federation, or ISSF.
The format for rifle shooting in the Olympics has changed significantly over time, taking on its modern form in 1984. While there have been some rules changes with finals matches and equipment, the events have remained mostly the same:
- Men's 3-Position Smallbore Rifle (40 shots in each position)
- Women's 3-Position Smallbore Rifle (20 shots in each position)
- Men's Air Rifle (60 shots standing)
- Women's Air Rifle (40 shots standing)
- Men's Prone Smallbore Rifle (60 shots prone)
The USA's 2012 3-P rifle champion, Jamie Corkish, did a great write-up at Women's Outdoor News on the format of the rifle events in the Olympic games, it's worth a read if you want to know more about what Olympic rifle shooting events are like. I plan to write more about the difference in men's and women's events soon. I touched on this topic briefly in my "Shoot Like A Girl" post, so check that out if you want some more info on gender equity in the shooting sports!
The Path to the Olympics
In the USA, we are fortunate to have several organizations running shooting matches, but there's only one that can punch your ticket to the Olympics. The National Rifle Association, Civilian Marksmanship Program (air rifle only), and USA Shooting are the big three, and USA Shooting is the official path to international competitions. USA Shooting hosts the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships (happening now: you can watch the live results if you catch this blog in April 2016!), the National Championships, team selection and minimum qualifying score matches, and every four years they run the Olympic Trials.
In my observations, the best way to the Olympics is via the National Team, and the best way to that team is to win big matches like the Junior Olympics, NCAA's, and National Championships. At one point they were bringing the top two competitors for each event at the Junior Olympics onto the Olympic Development Team (also known just as the "development team"), but I can't speak to whether that is the case anymore. Once you are on the National Team, you can be sent to events like the World Cups (which are run by ISSF and happen every year multiple times a year, unlike the soccer world cup!) and Pan-American Games (every four years, the year before the summer Olympics). Speaking of those events...
An Aside: How Many People Get to Compete at the Olympics?
Answer: As many as we win quota slots for. Quotas are won at events like the Pan-American Games, Championship of the Americas, and World Cups. This page from USA Shooting explains a little more about the quota setup. Essentially, athletes who perform well internationally win quota slots for their home country.
The quota system means we will send somewhere between one and two people per event to the games. That's right - for women, there is a max of four athletes that ever get to go to any Olympic Games. So every four years, maybe four people get to make their Olympic rifle shooting dream come true. Maybe...
What happens frequently is that USA either doesn't qualify for the maximum number of quota slots or someone has an excellent year and qualifies in both air rifle and smallbore rifle. For example, three female rifle shooters went to the 2012 Olympics in London to fill four spots, and this year Team USA will only have two slots available between women's smallbore and air rifle. I say this to underscore how amazing it is when someone qualifies for the Olympics. It really is an honor to qualify and shoot in the Games.
To be continued in Part 2... Stay tuned!