Caitlin Connor competes in the 2014 USA Shooting National Championships on Aug. 6, 2014 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
If women’s skeet shooter Caitlin Connor makes her first U.S. Olympic Team in 2016, she might have her backyard to thank.
In preparation for the first leg of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Shotgun, Connor practiced over the summer at a shooting range constructed in the “back pasture” of her family‘s property in Winnfield, Louisiana, a small town located 100 miles southeast of Shreveport.
“I’ve trained a lot harder this year,” said Connor, a junior at LSU. “I was able to have my own range built so I was able to train instead of travel. That helped out a lot.“
When the women’s skeet competition is held at the Tucson Trap and Skeet Club in Arizona, Connor, who is ranked No. 2 in the world, will battle five-time Olympian Kim Rhode and 2014 world champion Brandy Drozd, among others, for the one remaining women’s skeet spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. The trials will also determine who will fill Olympic berths in women’s trap, men’s double trap and men’s skeet.
But those four spots won’t be decided until May 2016.
The U.S. Olympic Trials for Shotgun begin Friday with trap shooting and will continue through Oct. 17 in Tucson. Skeet shooting for women and men will be held from Oct. 14-17. But that will be just the first half of competition that will award four Olympic nominations. The second half of the Olympic Trials will be held May 16–25 in Tillar, Arkansas.
“It’s kind of more stressful,” Connor said. “You could shoot absolutely amazing this month, but then five months from now you don’t really know how you’re going to be shooting, and vice versa. You could go into this match and not shoot very well, but then you have five months to work hard and train harder to come back.”
The trap and skeet competition in both Tucson and Tillar will feature two qualifying matches of 125 targets each, followed by two finals rounds. Cumulative points over both Olympic Trials competitions will decide the U.S. Olympic Team nominations.
“We shoot 500 targets total,” Connor said, “so anything could happen.”
Double trap will consist of two qualifying matches of 150 targets plus two finals at both venues.
Three U.S. athletes have already qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympics in shotgun via USA Shooting’s Olympic points system. They are two-time defending Olympic champion Vincent Hancock in men’s skeet, world champion and world No. 1 Morgan Craft in women’s skeet and four-time Olympian Glenn Eller in men‘s double trap.
Rhode, the U.S. flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony of the 2015 Pan American Games, is attempting to secure her sixth U.S. Olympic Team spot after making history in London, where she became the only American to win an individual medal in five consecutive Olympic Games. She won a gold medal in skeet in 2012 and also won double trap gold medals in 1996 and 2004.
Connor rose to No. 2 in the world after winning a silver medal behind Craft at the 2015 world championships. The stacked women’s skeet field also includes Drozd, former national champion Amber English, 2014 world cup medalist Haley Dunn, three-time world junior championship medalist Dania Vizzi and two-time world junior medalist Sydney Carson. Connor and Rhode finished second and third to Craft in the season-long Olympic points system.
The path toward the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games begins Friday with two-time Olympian Corey Cogdell-Unrein beginning her chase after the United States’ only Olympic spot in women’s trap. Cogdell-Unrein finished among the top six shooters in three world cups this year and is ranked third in the world. Pushing her for the Olympic spot are Kayle Browning, who placed second in the Pan Am Games, and Kimberly Bowers, who won the bronze medal at the Pan Am Games. Cogdell-Unrein and Browning finished first and second in the points system, though no athletes qualified in women’s trap this way because Team USA only secured one quota spot in the event.
With Eller already on the Olympic team in men’s double trap, the field shooting for the other remaining spot includes 2012 Olympian Josh Richmond and 2008 Olympian Jeff Holguin. Richmond won his second world title in 2014 and has won two world cup medals in previous competitions in Tucson. Joining them in the battle for Rio are Derek Haldeman, Chris Wilkoski and Ian Rupert, a two-time medalist in the world junior championships. Haldeman and Holguin finished second and third to Eller in the points system.
TJ Bayer secured the United States’ second quota in men’s skeet by winning a gold medal at the Pan Am Games. Now he’ll try to actually fill that spot himself. Among those he’ll battle along the way to Rio are good friend Dustin Perry, who won his first world cup medal in 2014 at the Tucson Trap and Skeet Club, and 2012 Olympian Frank Thompson. Other men’s skeet contenders include Phillip Jungman and Mark Weeks.
Men’s trap will also be conducted in Tucson, although there are no Olympic berths at stake because USA Shooting athletes were unable to secure an Olympic spot in this discipline.
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.