By Jeffrey Lowe | July 31, 2012, 7 a.m. (ET)

Hancock

Spectators saw the serious look on Vincent Hancock’s face and wondered if he was having any fun. After becoming the first American man to defend a gold medal in skeet shooting, Hancock could finally step out of the zone and smile.

Hancock, the 11th Olympic shooter to finish first in consecutive shooting events, shot a 148 for a two-clay advantage over silver medalist Anders Golding of Denmark at the Royal Artillery Barracks. He set an Olympic record in qualifying with a score of 123, while fellow U.S. shooter Frank Thompson was just one clay shy of making the final (119) and finished eighth overall in his Olympic debut.

Hancock said that being in the zone is relaxing and allows him to have a confident attitude. That was especially the case Tuesday.

“What I’ve been taught is to know that I’m the best,” said Hancock. “That’s what I was telling myself out there. I knew that I was going to win this before I stepped out on that field; it’s that expectation that I set for myself.”

Hancock’s coach, four-time Olympian and 2000 skeet shooting bronze medalist Todd Graves, was not surprised at the outcome.

“He’s won just about everything in the last three or four years,” Graves said. “When he steps out on the field it’s hard to beat the man. He’s confident, and that’s what it takes.”

The ease Hancock showed on Tuesday in winning the gold medal was not always on display between the victory in Beijing and the trip to London.

Hancock did not know where to go after winning his gold medal in Beijing. After winning both the Olympic gold and the gold medal at the 2009 World Championships, his career began to spiral downward.

Hancock says it was in 2011 that he “hit the bottom of his career,” as he had never performed so poorly in matches before.

“I had gotten to a point where I didn’t even enjoy myself anymore,” said Hancock. “I didn’t really want to go out there. I didn’t have the same passion for the sport.”

His wife told him that it was his decision whether he wanted to continue. After a several months, he decided that shooting was his passion and that he wanted to continue passing on the knowledge of the sport to the youth of the world and representing his country at the Olympic Games.

The decision to stick with the sport appears to have paid off.  “I appreciate the opportunities that have been given to me from the U.S. Army, God and my family, and this medal is just freakin’ awesome,” said Hancock.

Graves said he believes Hancock, 23, will be back for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games and he is confident that the Olympic champion will compete for many years to come.

Hancock said there will be no questions about his future over the next four years. This time, he knows where he stands. “Knowing that I want to go back and build my legacy is what I am going for now,” he said. “It’s not just the number of medals; it’s what else can I do, how big can I grow this sport and how many people can I introduce to it?”

Even though a gold-medal victory was not clinched until Hancock’s second to last target, his sense of confidence was clear. The sight of a gold medal around his neck brought an uncharacteristic smile to his face, a sight his competitors may well see again.

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