Follow Through: Ginny Thrasher Wins First Rio Gold in First Olympics
Ginny Thrasher just won gold at the 2016 Olympics. And not just any gold. She won *the first* gold medal that could be awarded at the Olympics. And she won it so commandingly, setting an Olympic Finals Record, that she leaves no doubt in anyone's mind that 2016 is the Year of Thrasher.
The kind of win Ginny just experienced gives me chills. Ginny won both NCAA rifle titles as a freshman, which was unprecedented. She won the smallbore rifle Olympic trials less than a month later. In June she added a national air rifle title to her resume and notched some top 10 international finishes. Despite all this, at age 19, on the Olympic stage she is a rookie. An underdog. No one expected her to win. She beat the top-ranked shooter in the world (Andrea Arsovic of Serbia) in this event to qualify for finals, which seats the top eight scores of the qualifying round against each other in what amounts to a single elimination match for the medal. She kept her cool during the incredibly stressful finals, watching her USA teammate fall out of the pack, along with shooters from Iran, Russia, and Germany until it was just Ginny and two formidable opponents in the top three. Defending Olympic champ Yi Siling and former Olympic champ Du Li trailed behind Ginny in points, but their collective experience and accomplishments might have put pressure on any lesser competitor to make their nerves break during the final shots of the match.
Instead, Ginny was steady. She stuck to the fundamentals. She looked relaxed, an unexpected state in the Olympic finals. She assumed a consistent stance and calm demeanor on each shot and got a consistently excellent result. Ginny shot 20 shots in the final. She was the youngest shooter to qualify for the finals match, purportedly by six years. She shot against top-ranked shooters who have topped the podiums of international matches countless times (technically I'm sure we could count how many times Du and Yi have won, but I'm waxing romantic here. I digress...) and she held her own. She followed through, all the way to gold.
I am active on social media. I eagerly followed this match on Facebook and was messaging with several former shooters, parents of shooters, and coaches while the finals were taking place. Collectively, we felt this electric excitement that, "hey, Ginny's doing well. Hey, she's hanging in there. Woah she's top three?! That's medal territory! HOT DANG SHE WON THE GOLD!"
Then a deluge of posts from media outlets, shooters, and friends flooded my Facebook and Instagram feeds. The first big-name posts from news and sports outlets showed stock photos of Ginny from the Olympic trials or national championships earlier this year. Then came a photo capturing Ginny triumphant as she set down her Feinwerkbau air rifle to wave to the crowds. Then another photo popped up, this one showing Ginny on the podium, wearing the gold medal with a look of pride and patriotism (and I'm sure a little bit of shock and awe). My favorite photo of all came before any of these got posted. A Facebook friend of mine shared a screen capture from her live stream of the final shot of the match. It shows Ginny and Du Li side by side, with their targets off to the side. It's a rare angle for a rarely televised sport - the camera was placed in front of the shooters, down range of their rifles. The photo captures two champions. Two women who have achieved perfection through air rifle shooting, and are splitting hairs (literally, sometimes a difference the width of a human hair can win or lose a match) for their chance to claim the first gold medal of the 2016 Olympic Games.
At first glance there isn't much to see in this screen capture beyond the result of their shots, which appears in the corner of the image. The women's faces are partially obscured by their perfectly aligned front and rear sights. They are still in "shot" mode, in the standing position with guns up. They are each still looking down their sights at the target, though Ginny is obviously done with the shot and moving to place her rifle on the stand used to rest between shots. The screen capture shows these two women frozen in what shooters call "follow through". This is a critical aspect of any shot. Follow through can affect how a pellet comes out of the rifle bore, and that in turn can affect the trajectory down range. Well-executed follow through means controlling movement of the trigger, the hold, breathing, and sight alignment. Well-executed follow through will keep a well-executed shot on track for the 10 ring. This screen capture shows an example of well-executed follow through.
Look closer, and my favorite part of this image becomes clear.
In the follow through of her final shot in her first Olympics finals match, Ginny must have known she'd done it. She hadn't even seen the result of her shot, but her execution and follow through were so good that she was confident of a good result (and it was a good result - 19 of her 20 shots in the final were 10's).
Look closely, and you'll see her smile in her follow through. And that, my friends, is why I love the Olympics.
Congratulations, Ginny. Congratulations to Sarah Scherer, who placed 8th with a world class performance. Congratulations to the USA Shooting coaching and admin staff, the coaches at West Virginia University, the coaches and parents and family members back in Fairfax, Virginia who I'm sure are celebrating. I'm so excited to be part of the shooting community, today and every day.