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The Rapid Rise That Led To 17-Year-Old Henry Leverett Earning An Olympic Quota For USA Shooting

By Scott McDonald | May 02, 2019, 12:34 p.m. (ET)

Henry Leverett waves on after completing a competition.


A new wave of skilled pistol shooters is moving through the ranks of USA Shooting, and some of those ripples recently began in southern Georgia. Henry Leverett stirred the latest waters to make people take notice, and he’s just one part of the family’s force in that wave. 

Leverett, a 17-year-old high school junior from Bainbridge, Georgia, not only competed in the first ISSF World Cup of his career last week in Beijing, he made it all the way to the final, finished fifth and earned Team USA a quota spot for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, guaranteeing an American will compete in men’s rapid fire pistol there.

Despite having already competed internationally on the junior circuit, Leverett admitted he was nervous last week in Beijing. But once competition began, he had ice-water veins and a hot trigger finger to shoot 585 and reach the final in rapid fire pistol.

“I had just finished my competition and my coach told me I won a quota place and was going to shoot in the final,” Leverett said. “It was insane to think about.”

Leverett finished fifth in the final. Three-time Olympian Keith Sanderson was 13th and Jack Leverett III, who is Henry’s older brother and still a teenager himself, finished 34th.

The Leveretts and all other U.S. rapid fire pistol hopefuls now have a shot at Tokyo. A two-part U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Shooting, contested this fall and the following spring, will determine the athletes to fill those slots.

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The Olympic quota Leverett earned last week is Team USA’s third of eight possible quotas in pistol so far. USA Shooting had already earned a quota in men’s air pistol and another in women’s air pistol. The U.S. has also earned five of the eight possible spots in rifle and five of eight in shotgun.

Henry Leverett first picked up a pistol in 2008 when he was 7. The 4-H Shooting Sports program taught him the basics, such as how to hold the gun and what the processes are for competition. He dabbled with air pistol and rapid fire pistol, and he still shot his BB gun. But as he got older and started getting more competitive, he gravitated to rapid fire pistol, and not because it was easy.

“I started shooting rapid fire and fell in love with it,” Henry said. “I loved how fast it is and how difficult it is.”

Jack Leverett is the father, and coach, of Henry, Jack III and their sister, Abbie, who’s 16 and also a shooter. The teenagers train with their father, putting in a lot of time on dry-fire practice, which is shooting the firearm with no ammunition.

The youngsters have all been successful. Henry placed fourth at last year’s junior world championships. And four days before Henry accomplished his feat in Beijing, Abbie won the overall title at the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championship (NJOSC), where she finished third just one year prior. Abbie’s win last month makes it five years in a row that a Leverett has won gold at the NJOSC.

At the Spring Selection Match in late March, Jack III scored 1,133.5 points for third place, which was just 12 points behind Henry, who finished second in the event won by Sanderson.

Henry Leverett, though, seems to be the sure-fire leader to keep advancing through the ranks and carrying the flag to be the next up-and-comer into a field where the average age of other established marksmen last weekend was 28.

“I don’t even think about that,” Henry said. “I just want to keep on training like I’ve done and learn from the others.”

The others means learning from USA Shooting national coaches, or the team members who he competed with at the Beijing World Cup, or those he competed against at those recent finals.

“Watching (competitors in the finals), I saw a different technique,” Leverett said. “I found it interesting what I can learn from that. Shooting alongside other competitors has helped me.”

Henry said Tokyo in 2020 is a dream he could have never imagined when he first competed internationally in the Czech Republic in 2016, but his recent success could give him a boost as he prepares for this summer’s Lima 2019 Pan American Games and the thought of making the Olympic team for Tokyo a year from now.

“I just want to continue with what I’m doing,” Leverett said. “What I’m doing has been working pretty well, and experience is what I’m needing.”

Scott McDonald is a writer from Houston who has covered sports for various outlets since 1998. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.