(L-R) Ashley Carroll and Derek Haldeman posing with their gold medals following the skeet and trap mixed finals at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 on July 31, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
The U.S. shotgun squad heads to the ISSF World Cup Final Shotgun already experiencing its most successful world cup season in history.
The reason? Well, it appears the team may have fallen ill.
“Success is contagious, and we have a virus right now,” said Jay Waldron, USA Shooting national shotgun coach and 1992 Olympian. “It just builds upon itself.”
This virus is absolutely doing Team USA some good.
Earlier this year, the U.S. finished earning all eight of its shotgun quota spots for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the most of any country thus far. It is also the first time that the U.S. will be sending a men’s trap shooter to the Olympic Games since the Beijing 2008 Games; in fact, there will be two Americans in the event.
For this week’s world cup final, the U.S. is sending eight athletes, the most it has ever qualified for the event. The shotgun team earned 12 total medals – 5 golds, 5 silvers, 2 bronzes – at four world cups this season.
The athletes and coaches credit the camaraderie, despite the individual nature of the sport, for the overall success.
“We’ve really capitalized on that side of it, they feel that support,” Waldron said. “That’s really paying off on the results side. That’s been our mission as coaching staff, for sure.”
It would definitely appear it has been working. Having the hottest team in the world supporting you helps take away some stress when the results have so much on the line outside of the event itself.
“The squad helped take a lot of the pressure off,” said women’s trap shooter Aeriel Skinner. “You know you have a team where everyone is capable of [earning quotas], so it’s not all on you.”
Ashley Carroll, specifically, has seen enormous success and is one to watch going into the world cup final. Carroll won her first ever world championship medal in women’s trap in July: it was gold. The win marked the first by an American at worlds in 20 years.
U.S. shooting legend Kim Rhode is always one to watch as well. Rhode, the only woman of any sport and any nation to medal at six consecutive Olympic Games, is one of four U.S. women qualified for the world cup final in women’s skeet. This season she earned her fourth consecutive world cup win, something no other female shooter – or shotgun athlete – has done.
Caitlin Connor, Amber English and Sam Simonton join her this week in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates.
The U.S. men who qualified to the final are men’s skeet shooters Vincent Hancock and Christian Elliott, who went 1-2 at a world cup in May – the first for U.S. shooters in the event in 26 years.
This week marks the last major competition for shotgun athletes in 2019.
“For a world cup final, it’s like ‘I’ve trained all year, I know what I can do,’ so it’s about doing the same routine you’ve done all year,” Carroll said. “Then, we’ll see how we finish, and we’ll hopefully go into next year with the goal of starting from this point, not starting all over again.”
The next step will be turning the page and maintaining focus as the athletes fight to make the Olympic team. This will be a bit of the change for the shotgun team, as not all of the United States’ talented athletes will fit into the eight openings (two per event).
For Carroll, the thought of potentially competing at the Tokyo Games is nearly inexplicable.
“I think that at the end of training for four years, where you learn from every match and every practice how to improve yourself, the biggest dream outcome you can have is the Olympics,” she said. “It’s the ultimate dream and ultimate demonstration of your hard work paying off.”
While it’s hard to forget the Olympics are less than a year away, Carroll focuses as much as she can on taking events one shot at a time.
“Overall this year, we’ve had good ups and good downs for some learning points. We hope to carry it on through next year, but right now we’re all focused on the world cup final.”