Enkelejda Shehaj emerged victorious from a field of eight women’s sport pistol athletes vying for the opportunity to represent the United States at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She needed a sudden-death victory over Nathalie Granados in the gold-medal match Friday in Fort Benning, Georgia, to secure her ticket to Brazil.
Shehaj began the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Smallbore with a first-day score of 582, which put her six points up on Brenda Silva, a 2008 Olympian in air pistol, and 12 points ahead of 2012 Olympian Sandra Uptagrafft, who was returning to competition for the first time since suffering a severe shooting hand injury last fall. Uptagrafft, the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games silver medalist, was third with 570 points after Wednesday’s round.
Shehaj and Silva shot identical 574 scores on the second day of competition, while Uptagrafft pulled back five points to within one of Silva, setting up a dramatic battle on Friday’s final day of competition.
Uptagrafft continued her charge back on the third day before ending the competition in third place. Had Granados won the gold-medal match over Shehaj, the Olympic nomination would have gone to Uptagrafft.
Although it is the first time Shehaj has earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team, she is no stranger to competing at the Olympic Games, having shot for her native Albania at the Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, finishing 14th and 15th, respectively. She also participated in air pistol in Atlanta, placing 21st in that event.
A member of the 2014 U.S. world team, she has competed at three world championships and in a total of 12 world cup events, placing as high as fifth in sport pistol at the 1999 world cup event in Munich.
Shehaj and her husband, Tony Bekurti, own and operate Olympia Dining in Naples, Florida. She began shooting competitively at age 17 in her hometown of Tirana, Albania, and by 1989 was named to the Albanian national team. She represented Albania until 2000, when she moved to the United States and stepped away from the sport.