Olympic Roundup Day 1 - Ginny Thrasher is Golden in Women's Air Rifle and Men's Archery Team Repeats Silver
For shooting enthusiasts, the start of the Rio Olympics could hardly have been better. The USA Shooting team started off their Olympic effort in the best possible way today with Ginny Thrasher's gold medal finish at the very first medal-awarding event of the 2016 Rio Olympics. USA's second medal of the Games came from another form of shooting - archery. The American men's archery team repeated their London 2012 silver medal performance, losing the gold medal match to the Koreans Saturday afternoon.
Women's Air Rifle
Ginny Thrasher has had one heck of a year. In my last post I dubbed 2016 the Year of Thrasher. While her win today came unexpectedly in the eyes of some, she blazed her path to the Olympics with plenty of gold medal performances in the months leading up to the Games. The underdog aspect of her story starts with her age, as she is an Olympic rookie, the youngest on this year's USA Shooting Olympic team and the youngest competitor to qualify for the finals. In fact, among the seven other shooters who qualified for the finals match in women's air rifle, Ginny's teammate Sarah Scherer is the next-closest in age, at six years her senior.
The eight ladies in the women's air rifle final today. I love seeing the different ways people shoot. Each of these women is different, but with an appropriately adjusted air rifle in their hands they are unstoppable. Top left and bottom right are #TeamUSA 💪🇺🇸 #Repost @issfpicture with @repostapp #rio2016 #aimforfit #shootfit #nbcolympics #olympics ・・・#issf
Beyond her relatively young age, Ginny's relatively short five years of competitive shooting experience makes her victory today even more exceptional. She picked up an air rifle as a high school freshman at West Springfield High School in Fairfax County. I graduated from a rival high school (Lake Braddock, which is not a pertinent fact, nor is the fact that we called her school "West Stinkfield") and she also shot for the junior rifle team I was a part of back in the day, the Arlington Optimist-Acorns. This team has a storied history, with several NCAA and national champion shooters hailing from its ranks, including another Olympic rifle medalist in Mike Anti (silver, 50m 3-position rifle in Athens in 2004). Her shooting performance seemed to blossom this year at West Virginia University, where something must have clicked with her coach, her team, her equipment, and her mindset. WVU is a powerhouse, it's several-time national champion rifle team producing many Olympians, including Niccolo Campriani, who is the defending 3-position 50m rifle Olympic champ and silver medalist in men's air rifle (look for him later this week in every men's rifle event). What Ginny might lack in years' experience, she appears to have made up for in talent, drive, and excellent mental management.
USA Shooting had three other athletes compete today, whose performances have been outshined by the golden glow of Ginny's match. Sarah Scherer finished in eighth place today in the same event Ginny won. As the winner of the air rifle Olympic Trials, Sarah was technically the official quota slot designee for the women's air rifle Olympic events. Ginny got to shoot this air rifle event because she won the smallbore Olympic Trials and she fired a minimum qualifier score in an international air rifle match leading up to the Olympics. Since the USA only had one quota slot for the women's air rifle, the fact that two athletes got to compete is as The Donald might say "a YUGE deal" and doubled the USA's chance for a medal, which paid off.
Sarah mentioned on social media today that an official asked her to change her butt plate position ten minutes before the start of the finals. Sarah finished in the top eight in London. She won NCAA titles and national championships, won the USA Shooting Olympic Trials, all with the same butt plate position. I'm not sure what the official saw today that was different than in the past. But to have equipment changed at the last minute is a big problem for any shooter. Sarah is handling the situation with grace. Sarah gets to shoot in the women's 3x20 50m rifle event later in the week based on the same scenario that allowed Ginny to shoot air rifle today. I sincerely hope that Sarah gets redemption. She's retiring after this Olympics due to a back injury from which she's already made one epic recovery to qualify for the Rio Games.
I finished 8th in the world! I am walking away from Air rifle knowing I put everything on the line today and I shot my best. With that said: the final was very frustrating... 10 mins before the final an official made me change my butt plate and it's been that way since college through all of the numerous equipment controls. The result was I had to muscle the gun into my shoulder to stay on the bull. All of the rifle shooters understand that this has a significant impact on your hold. But I made the most of it by shooting my smallest holds. As an athlete, you never know the adversity ahead and it's about how you make the most of every opportunity to compete your best. I have faith that God had His plan fulfilled no matter how it might feel right now. #GodisGood #keepthefaith #teamusa #Rio2016
Men's Air Pistol
Jay Shi and Will Brown each posted a world class score of 577 out of 600 today. Eight men shot that same score, and through tie-breakers (typically counting back from the last shot, what the last string of 10 shots was to break the tie) Will finished in 12th and Jay finished in 18th. For both men that's an excellent finish, though not finals-worthy. Overall this is a great day for USA Shooting and a great start to the Olympic Games.
Men's Recurve Archery
I'm not going to claim to be an expert on Olympic recurve archery. I am just a huge fan. These archers shoot a recurve bow at 70m, which is almost 77 yards, aiming at the X-ring which is about size of a silver dollar. They shot what I would consider to be a typical match yesterday in the ranking round - 72 arrows for cumulative individual score. With a max score of 720 points possible, a Korean archer named Kim Woojin shot a world record of 700 in Friday's ranking round. The Korean men kept that momentum going through elimination rounds today's matches, when the top 12 teams are organized into brackets, March Madness-style with the top four teams getting a bye in the first round. Three archers rotate through a lineup and each shoot one arrow. Then the opposing team does the same. This is called shooting an "end". Each "end" is compared between teams and the team with the highest end score gets 2 points. If there's a tie, points are split 1-1. The team that gets to 6 points first wins. Teams advance within brackets until they meet in the gold medal match, as the Koreans and Americans did today.
The Korean team got third in 2012, taken out of gold medal contention by the men from the USA. They came back with a vengeance this year, setting a team record in the process. Jake Kaminski and Brady Ellison were part of the silver-medal team in 2012 and 2016. Zach Garrett joined them this year by finishing in the top three in archery Olympic trials.
Archery matches continue throughout the week, with men's and women's individual matches still to come. Keep an eye on Team USA's archers, especially Brady Ellison, who shot a 699/720 (one point off the world record set by Kim yesterday) in a World Cup earlier this year.
A Win for the Shooting Sports
After a banner day like today, there is a large part of my heart that makes me so happy to be part of this community of shooters. Not only did they earn America its first medals at the 2016 Olympics. Not only did shooters perform with sportsman-like conduct, and behave like class acts in their interviews afterward. They did so much more than just elite athletic performance and interviews. Shooters excelled today in events that show the world that firearms and bows have purposes beyond what typical mass media outlets show. These shooters performed well not just for Team USA, but for the global community of shooters. For that I say thank you.
Thank you Ginny.
Thank you Jake.
Thank you Brady.
Thank you Zach.