U.S. shooters give it best shot for ’12

Feb. 10, 2011, 4:02 p.m. (ET)

An outstanding 2010 season put Kim Rhode in position to make history. Should she keep it up and qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games, Rhode, a four-time U.S. Olympian in shooting and USA Shooting’s Female Athlete of the Year, could become the first U.S. athlete in an individual sport to win medals at five consecutive Olympic Games.

Rhode has already won two Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004) and a bronze medal (2000) in double trap and won a silver medal (2008) in skeet.

“That’s kind of like a marker to let you know where you’re standing,” Rhode said of her 2010 success, which included five medals — including two gold — in international competition in women’s skeet. “It’s a measure, I guess, toward your goal. It’s really nice to see all that hard work paying off.”

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Kim Rhode of the United States cinoetes in the Women's Skeet Final at the Shooting Range CTF during Day 6 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 14, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Rhode took the first steps towards that goal in 2010, winning an Olympic quota place for Team USA at the ISSF World Shooting Championships and jumping to a commanding lead in the United States’ points system used to select the Olympic team.

The ISSF awards quota places for the 2012 Games to top finishers at predetermined international competitions in 2010 and 2011. Those quota places, however, are filled as each federation sees fit and the United States uses a point system, rewarding consistent success at international events, to fill out the Olympic team. So while Rhode is in a good position for London, she is not quite ready to book a Trans-Atlantic flight just yet. Still, she can feel pretty good about her chances.

It’s a very different system than some other sports use. Some U.S. athletes won’t find out if they will compete in London until the bitter end. Swimmers, for example, will compete for Olympic spots in Omaha, Neb., from June 25, 2012-July 2, 2012. The Games in London begin July 27, 2012.

The United States leads all federations with 12 after the 2010 World Shotgun Championships — where Rhode won a gold medal — and the 2010 Championships of the Americas.

“Having the selection process already done for the most part, I think it’s going to allow me to focus more on the Games and what they entail,” Rhode said. “I can focus on being better prepared and having a lot of fun too. I’ll enjoy the events (this year) even more because you don’t have all that other stuff (to worry about).”

Two-time U.S. Olympic medalist Matt Emmons won Team USA’s first quota spot, and three other 2008 Olympic medal winners — Vincent Hancock, Jason Turner and Corey Cogdell — also won quotas in 2010.

“It’s great going in middle of the season and getting that quota spot,” said Brian Beaman, who won a quota in the men’s 10-meter air pistol. “It’s a little bit of weight off your shoulders knowing we have that first quota spot. We’ll work on getting (another) one at World Cups in 2011. It’s great that we secured at least one spot in air pistol for somebody to go.”

Each nation can get up to 28 Olympic quota places — two for all the Olympic shooting events except women’s trap and women’s skeet, which only have one. An athlete can only win one quota place for his or her team.

Members of the national shooting team will try to secure quota places and U.S. selection points during this year’s seven ISSF World Cups.

The international competition begins with the Shotgun World Cup in Conception, Chile, in March. The World Cups continue around the world — including a Rifle/Pistol event at Fort Benning, Ga., next month — through July.

Emmons is hoping to make the Olympic team in three events — air rifle, 3-position rifle and prone rifle — but is more focused on improving his shooting.

“There are definitely some things I want to continue working on throughout this year to build into next year,” Emmons said. “But I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.

“If I do the things I want to do anyway, (making the team) will take care of itself.”

Mattemmons
Matthew Emmons of United States competes in the men's 50 metre rifle three position finals on during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Emmons ended 2010 with three World Cup gold medals in 3-position and won a quota spot with a bronze medal in prone rifle at the World Championships. After the season, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He underwent successful surgery before getting back to work this year.

Emmons has a big lead in U.S. selection points in 3-position rifle but has competition for the team’s two potential slots in prone.

“Our country is very good in that particular event,” he said.

Emmons likely will battle teammates Joe Hein, Eric Uptagrafft and Michael McPhail for the Olympic berths.

“We have three or four or five guys that on any given day could medal or win a World Cup, which is unheard of,” Emmons said. “I know I have my work cut out for me but that’s a good thing because I know I can’t be lazy.”

The United States set a point threshold for each event and athletes who surpass it — like Rhode — will claim Olympic berths if there is a quota place. If athletes don’t meet the threshold to claim an available quota place, there will be a two-part Olympic Selection Match this fall and next spring.

Kim Rhode
Kim Rhode proudly showing off her Olympic medals. (USA Shooting)

But the first priority is getting those Olympic quota places during World Cup this season.

“It’s a big push right now to win quotas,” said new national team member Sarah Scherer. “(Women’s) air rifle has not won either of its quota spots. It’s going to be a challenging year. I’m looking forward to it.”

Scherer, who also shoots for the Texas Christian University team, joined the national team at the end of 2010 and will compete in her first season of World Cups. She hopes to earn an Olympic berth but is more concerned with getting the United States to the Games in her event.

“It always has been my dream to go to the Olympics, but more importantly I want the United States to go to the Olympics and win gold,” she said. “So if it’s me or one of my teammates — I hope it’s me — I’m going to try my best to help any of us to get there.”

The Olympic team will begin to take shape by the end of 2011 but Beaman said it’s impossible to guess right now who will make to London.

“The U.S. has such a strong team,” he said. “We have great crop of shooters and everybody’s rating and performing well. It’s going to go well for us, I think.”

Members of the national team also have the Shotgun National Championships in June, Rifle/Pistol National Championships in July, the Shotgun World Championships in August and the Pan American Games in October. Top shooters can also be invited to the World Cup Finals at the end of the season. Those events, however, don’t award quota places or U.S. selection points.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Tom Glave is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.