What was inconceivable at the beginning of 2016 now is a foregone conclusion as 19-year-old Ginny Thrasher caps a phenomenal year by being named one of USA Shooting’s two overall Athlete of the Year winners. Joining her is four-time Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist Matt Emmons.
Also earning recognition in their respective disciplines were six-time Olympic medalist Kim Rhode in women’s shotgun, 2016 Paralympic bronze medalist McKenna Dahl, two-time double trap Olympian Josh Richmond and pistol shooter Will Brown, who won a spot on his first Olympic team.
Few could have predicted the success that Thrasher enjoyed in 2016. Displaying a competitive maturity that belied her 19 years, much less the four years experience she’s had in shooting, Thrasher won the first medal awarded at the Olympic Games when she won the women’s air rifle.
The first clues of her breakout year came during her collegiate season as a freshman at West Virginia University. She was one point away from a perfect score of 600 not once, but twice, as she blazed a path that led her to become the first freshman to earn the individual NCAA crown while launching the Mountaineers to their fourth consecutive team title.
For Emmons, 2016 wasn’t so much about missing out on a fourth Olympic medal as it was racking up a series of impressive world cup performances, taking gold in the three-position rifle event at world cups in China and Germany (setting a finals world record at the latter), blended with silver (three-position) and bronze (prone) at the Rio world cup. Although his Olympic performance wasn’t what was hoped, Emmons showed his characteristic resilience by winning bronze medals in both three-position and prone at the World Cup Final.
Rhode continued to burnish her legend in 2016, becoming the first female to medal in six consecutive Olympic Games. With her women’s skeet bronze medal in Rio, she joined Italian luger Armin Zoeggeler as the only athletes to medal in six Games. She added to her impressive collection of world cup medals with a silver and bronze, then finished with a flourish by taking gold at the World Cup Final, sending a message that a seventh Olympic podium four years hence is not out of the question.
Dahl earned Paralympian of the Year honors by breaking a 12-year drought for the U.S. with the bronze medal she won in the prone event. The first female U.S. Paralympian to earn a medal, her feat is made more impressive by the context of her final round in Rio, where she was the only woman competing and, at the age of 20, was nearly half the age of the rest of the field. Only two years into her competitive career, Dahl can look forward to even greater achievements in the years to come.
On the surface, Richmond’s seventh-place finish in double trap in Rio was an improvement over his 16th-place result four years prior in London, but that tells only part of the story. He rebounded from a poor third round to charge back into contention, missing only two targets in the final two rounds on the way to a colossal three-person, 12-target shoot-off that pitted Richmond against the eventual Olympic champion for the last semifinal berth.
Brown’s 10th-place finish in 25-meter free pistol was the best showing by an American since the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games and was only the third time a U.S. shooter placed in the top 10 in the event since 1964. Combined, his 10th in free pistol and 12th in air pistol gave him the best two-event showing for an American since the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games. In addition to raising the standard for Olympic competition, he also posted three top-10 finishes on the world cup circuit, including a silver medal in Bangkok and an eighth place at the World Cup Final.