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Husband and wife both shooting for Olympic glory

By Amy Rosewater | June 07, 2012, 3 p.m. (ET)

Eric and Sandra Uptagrafft
Eric Uptagraff during Day 6 of the ISSF Shooting World Cup on April 24, 2012; Sandra Uptagrafft posing after winning bronze at the XVI Pan American Games in 2011 

Back on Aug. 5, 2000, when Sandra and Eric Uptagrafft were married, neither of them envisioned they both would be where they find themselves today: each preparing to compete in the Olympic Games together.

But that’s exactly where they are.

This summer in London, they will compete in the sport of shooting and they will celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary during the Games as well. According to USA Shooting, the Uptagraffts are believed to be the first married couple to earn spots on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.

Sergeant First Class Eric Uptagrafft qualified back in July for a spot on the team in the 50-meter prone rifle event. Sandra, a Petty Officer First Class in the Navy Reserves, however, did not earn a spot until June 5 when she won a national title in Women’s 25-meter pistol in Fort Benning, Ga. Both qualified for spots on the U.S. team pending approval from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

For Eric, this will be his second trip to the Olympic Games but his first in 16 years. His last appearance came in Atlanta in 1996. For Sandra, London will be her first Olympic Games.

The wait between Eric’s qualification and Sandra’s was, to say the least, stressful. The goal for the couple was to make the trip to London together. Four years ago, Sandra came close, earning a quota spot for Team USA, but didn’t get to fill that spot herself. She earned a quota spot again for London, but this time, she came through to secure the spot for herself.

“I think it helped us in a way that Eric had already qualified,” Sandra said in a telephone interview. “It was one less stress on the both of us. But all the stress was on me. I think if we both had to qualify now our house would’ve been unlivable. As stressed out as I was, I think he might have been even more nervous watching me. He really wanted this for me.

“At home, he’s been doing everything to be a great husband, doing the dishes, making sure I am not getting too stressed.”

Eric said he didn’t sleep well for the past week and wagered to guess his wife didn’t for the past month.

But they both slept well on June 5.

The whole process was nerve-racking, and Sandra admitted she didn’t make things easier with her performance.

“I was beyond nervous and my scores were terrible,” she said. “I struggled through all three days. On the very last day, they didn’t tell us what happened or who won. I didn’t think I made it. All I knew was I was tired.

“Then someone from [the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] came up to me for a drug test and I saw her clipboard that said I was in first place. That’s how I found out. I had to wait for about five or 10 minutes before that but it seemed so long.”

Sandra was so shocked by her final placement that she said on June 6, the day after her victory, she still wasn’t sure her Olympic dream had been realized.

“I’m still kind of in the pinch-me phase,” she said.

Sandra credited two-time Olympic silver medalist Ruby Fox with helping her technically but also with the mental side of the sport.

“She really guided me through this process,” Sandra said.

Eric, meanwhile, had been stressed but had pretty much calculated his wife’s scores and knew that she had a good shot at making the team. Sandra finished with 2102.5 points overall, while Teresa Meyer finished just behind with a 2099.7, followed by four-time Olympian Libby Callahan at 2098.8.

After the Trials, Sandra and Eric came home, to nearby Phenix City, Ala., answered some phone calls and checked their emails, ate a small dinner, and called it a night.

Said Eric, “I slept in until 9 this morning.”

Sandra, meanwhile, spent the day after her victory back at the range. She was set to compete on June 7in air pistol. But the pressure is off since the U.S. did not earn a quota spot in that event.

Now that the Uptagraffts both know their plans for the summer, they plan to make the most of it. When Eric competed in 1996, he went to the Opening Ceremony and even marched in alongside of track and field gold medalist Carl Lewis, and he vividly recalls seeing Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic cauldron. He took in some volleyball games and saw some men’s basketball.

His actual competition, however, was not quite as memorable. He placed 30th and realized his lack of international competitive experience caught up with him. Now, he said, he is more prepared. Not only has he competed in numerous World Cups, including a sixth-place finish at a test event in London in April, but he als won a team gold medal at the world championships in 2010.

Although she is an Olympic rookie, Sandra has fared well internationally, garnering a silver medal at the 2011 Pan American Games in October in sport shooting.

In London, the Uptagraffts are planning on attending the Opening Ceremony and staying in the Olympic Village. Through the first half of the Games, they will be focused on the shooting competition, and they plan to be tourists the second half.

Said Sandra: “I’m planning on doing it all.”

And deservedly so.

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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