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Up In The Air: 430-Plus Shooters Begin Olympic Trials For Air Rifle And Air Pistol

By Paul D. Bowker | Dec. 03, 2015, 2 p.m. (ET)

Sarah Beard competes at the 2014 ISSF World Championships on Sept. 6, 2014 in Granada, Spain.

The Beard family house in Indiana has almost turned into an international museum.

At least that’s how 2016 U.S. Olympic Team hopeful Sarah Beard sees it.

“I grew up seeing different things from the world all over our house,” she said.

There’s a reason for that. Her dad, Bill, was a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team as a shooter. He won a silver medal at the 1982 world championships in Venezuela. He won a world cup title in Los Angeles. He competed in Sweden, Germany, Norway and Russia, among other places.

Sarah may add to the international collection if she’s successful in her efforts to compete in shooting at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. An Olympic medal from Brazil would fit nicely among the memorabilia in the Beards’ home in Danville, Indiana.

The chase for an Olympic spot begins this week for Beard and more than 430 athletes in women’s and men’s air rifle and air pistol.

Beard, a national champion, captured the United States’ lone quota spot in women’s air rifle by getting into the finals of a world cup event this year in Fort Benning, Georgia. Beginning Friday with the first stage of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Airgun at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Beard will try to win the Olympic team nomination for that quota spot with Bill Beard among the spectators.

Dad’s advice?

“Just kind of, stick to your guns,” said Sarah, laughing, recognizing the pun. “Do what I know how to do, which is performing a good shot each and every shot.”

The three-day Olympic Trials in Colorado Springs will also include competition in men’s air rifle, men’s air pistol and women’s air pistol. A total of five Olympic Team spots are available: two in men’s air rifle, and one each in women’s air rifle, men’s air pistol and women’s air pistol.

While the first stage of the Olympic Trials is three days long, the Olympic berths won’t be decided until the second and final stage of the trials in June. The top 10 qualifiers in Colorado Springs in each of the four disciplines will advance to the final stage. For those shooters not among the top 10, a “second chance” competition will be held in May. Athletes will advance to the final stage from the “second chance” event if they match the qualifying score of the 10th-place shooter from the first stage of the trials.

Beard, a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, is also the national champion in women’s three-position rifle, a discipline in which she will also participate in the Olympic Trials in April.

“If I make the team, obviously that would be awesome. That’s what I’ve spent the last four years doing,” she said. “If I don’t, then that’s something beyond my control.”

Of the four airgun disciplines, women’s air rifle is the largest group of athletes in the Olympic Team Trials. Beard is one of 167 in the competition chasing after one spot. Among the other contenders are Sarah Scherer, a 2012 Olympian who is back in competition after battling back injuries in 2014; Amy Sowash, who has medaled in two of the last three national championships; Elizabeth Marsh and Sarah Osborn, 2015 Pan American Games teammates; Virginia Thrasher, a U.S. runner-up; and Rhiann Travis, a high school student who won the Dixie Double competition just before Thanksgiving.

The competition itself is a measure of consistency and patience.

“You’re shooting an hour. It’s shot after shot after shot,” Beard said. “That’s what is really different from a lot of other sports. You are literally not moving for like an hour. You’re trying to keep yourself mentally calm so that your body can stay relaxed.”

Dempster Christenson and Connor Davis, who won the two Olympic quota spots in men’s air rifle, lead a group of 132 men. Christenson is the current U.S. champion and won his first world cup silver medal in 2013. Other contenders include 2014 national champion Ryan Anderson, 2015 Pan Am Games bronze medalist Bryant Wallizer, and Dan Lowe and George Norton.

Will Brown, who has had three world cup final appearances in three years and won the quota spot in men’s air pistol, is among 80 men in that discipline. Other top contenders include 2012 Olympian Nick Mowrer, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Jason Turner, Pan Am Games silver medalist Jay Shi, 2008 Olympian Brian Beaman and 2013 U.S. champion James Henderson.

Women’s air pistol hopefuls include Lydia Paterson, a 19-year-old who won the U.S. quota spot at a world cup in Munich, Germany.

“After making many sacrifices and spending countless hours on the range, my sport has transformed from a hobby into a passion,” Paterson said. “This season has been my most successful year yet, and winning an Olympic quota in June has brought my Olympic dream to life. I am determined to earn my place on the 2016 Olympic team.”

Others among the 52 women’s air pistol shooters include two-time national champion Courtney Anthony, 2008 Olympian Brenda Silva and Carson Saabye, who won a bronze medal at the national championships and at age 13 became the youngest member of the national team in USA Shooting history.

Sandra Uptagrafft, a 2012 Olympian, is out of the competition because of a fractured hand.

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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