The setting could not have been more dramatic when U.S. teammates Caitlin Connor and Morgan Craft went into a head-to-head shoot-off Sunday evening at the ISSF World Championship Shotgun in Lonato, Italy.
On the line? A world championship gold medal and a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, the first Olympic team for either of them.
Connor and Craft were the last two athletes remaining in the hunt for a women’s skeet Olympic nomination after USA Shooting’s season-long Olympic points system. And they were close enough where the difference between gold and silver at the final event of the system would determine who goes to Rio.
Their rivalry was so intense that even in that gold-medal match, the two were tied heading into the final station of four targets. Connor missed the final two targets, while Craft hit all four in the final station, ending the shoot-off with a score of 15-13.
Craft became the 2015 world champion and punched her ticket to her first Olympic Games, with Connor taking silver. Craft ended the points system with 55 points to Connor’s 47.
It was the perfect end to a breakthrough season for Craft. The 22-year-old burst onto the international stage this year, earning two world cup medals – a silver in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and bronze in Larnaca, Cyprus – and finishing sixth in Acapulco, Mexico. Her previous best world cup performance was fourth in 2012 and she became so discouraged last summer that she withdrew from competition for several months.
Connor and several other athletes, including five-time Olympic medalist Kim Rhode, will enter Olympic team selection competitions in October and May to vie for the right to fill Team USA’s remaining women’s skeet quota.
Later this week, U.S. athletes could qualify for the Olympic team in men’s skeet and men’s double trap.
Craft, a Muncy Valley, Pennsylvania, native, is one of 11 U.S. athletes who have qualified to compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games so far. She joins pentathlete Nathan Schrimsher, table tennis player Yue “Jennifer” Wu, open water swimmers Jordan Wilimovsky, Sean Ryan and Haley Anderson, triathletes Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah True, and shooters Michael McPhail, Keith Sanderson and Matt Emmons.