Every four years, a select group of shooter-athletes who have dedicated their lives to their sport get to take what most would consider shooting's biggest stage: the Olympic Games. USA Shooting recently wrapped up its national championships, a match that has a big impact on who makes the Olympic team. Here are the athletes who made the cut for the 2012 London Games. (And there's still plenty of time to support the team. Visit USA Shooting's website and make a donation today!)
Matt Emmons is no stranger to the Olympics. The 2004 gold medalist and 2008 silver medalist in 50m Prone will be shooting Men's 50m 3 Position and Men's 10m Air Rifle in London this summer. He's no stranger to heartbreak either. At the 2004 games he was leading the field in 3 Position right down to the last shot in the finals
round but crossfired and finished out of the medals. A similar fate befell him in Beijing in 2008 when he got too heavy on the trigger on his last finals shot, resulting in a fourth-place finish.
But the Browns Mills, NJ, native gets another crack at it this year, and he's coming off a strong performance at the London tune-up World Cup match earlier this year where he grabbed a silver medal in 3 Position. He notched a similar finish at the 2011 World Cup in Sydney. Matt is married to fellow shooter Katerina nee Kurkova, a 2008 Olympic gold and silver medalist from the Czech Republic.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit returns for his fourth Olympics, this time in Men's 50m 3 Position — which he also shot at the Beijing Olympics. His finishes there probably weren't what he was looking for — 23rd place with a 591 in Air Rifle and 22nd place with an 1164 in 3 Position — but the Omaha, Nebraska, native has been tearing it up as of
late. He won the gold medal in 3 Position earlier this year at a World Cup in Milan, and won gold and bronze medals at the 2011 Pan American Games in 3 Position and 50m Prone, respectively. He capped it off with a national-championship performance in 3 Position at this year's nationals/U.S. Olympic qualifying match where he outdistanced his closest competitor by 15 points.
Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit is getting his first taste of the Olympics; he will compete in 50m Prone in London. Despite deploying to Afghanistan last year, Uptagrafft managed to compete in a number of World Cupcompetitions over the past two years, notching two silvers in 50m Prone in 2011 and a silver and a bronze in 2010. He finished in sixth and fifth in 50m Prone at two World Cups this
year. He's married to fellow 2012 Olympic pistol team member Sandra Uptragrafft.
Uptagrafft's USAMU teammate Sgt. Michael McPhail will also be traveling to London and also representing the USA in the 50m Proneevent. The Darlington, Wisconsin, native won the gold in 50m Prone at the 2011 Pan American Games and won a bronze medal in the same event at this year's London World Cup — plus a fourth place finish in Milan. He earned his London berth with a strong performance in the U.S. Olympic trials, shooting a 599 out of 600 in the qualifying round and followed that with a strong finals on the first day and was able to hang on through the three-day match to win the national championship — three points ahead of Emmons.
Carrollton, Georgia's Jonathan Hall will be joining Emmons on the Men's 10m Air
Rifle line. Hall was a silver medalist at last years Pan Ams and also the U.S. national champion that year. He shot his way onto this year's Olympic squad with a second-place finish at the nationals — overcoming a 591 out of 600 the first day by shooting a
597 the second day.
Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson, another USAMU shooter, will be competing at the 2012 London Paralympics in R3 and R6 rifle. Olson, a Wounded Warrioradvocate, was on patrol with his 101st Airborne unit in Iraq in 2003 when he was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade. Olson lost his right leg from the hip down in the attack, and after a year and a half at Walter Reed hospital, he was assigned to USAMU — where led the effort to establish a Paralympic team there. Olson just missed the cut for the 2008 Paralympics, but his two top 10 finishes in World Cups last year — along with
gold- and silver-medal performance at two big 2011 U.S. matches in R6 and R3, respectively — earned him his 2012 slot.
Jamie (Beyerle) Gray, originally from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and now a technical coach for the Columbus State University rifle team, is getting her second crack at the Olympics after qualifying in Women's 10m Air Rifle and Women's 50m 3 Position for the 2012 Games. Gray finished fourth in 10m Air Rifle in Beijing in 2008, firing only two nine in the finals to move up from fifth place. She also made the finals in 3 Position in 2008 and finished fifth, so
she's not lacking in experience.
Over past three years she's been turning in some great performances in both events, including two World Cup gold medals in 3 Position and two bronzes in Air Rifle. And she did not disappoint at this year's nationals, where she finished in second place in both 3 Position and Air Rifle.
Sarah Scherer of Woburn, Massachussetts, also qualified for Women's 10m Air Rifle. Scherer is having a heck of a year. She was part of this year's victorious Texas Christian University rifle team, the all-woman squad that captured the NCAA championships. At NCAAs she won the individual smallbore title and was third in individual air rifle — and it's worth noting that in college men and women compete on an equal footing. To cap it off, Scherer won this year's national title in air rifle at the USA national championships. Another interesting tidbit? She's related to Daniel Boone.
Amanda Furrer will share the firing line with Gray for Women's 50m 3 Position, largely by virtue of her convincing 3 Position victory at the 2012 national
championships. Furrer, from Spokane, Washington, eclipsed Gray by four points over the three-day competition. In 2011 she won the bronze at the nationals and was part of the winning team at the 2010 World Championships. In a recent Twitter exchange as part of a get-out-the-support effort by the U.S. Olympic Team, Furrer revealed that she gave up soccer and dance at the age of 13 and told her dad she wanted to become an Olympic shooter. And now she is one. Asked about her approach to the pressure-packed finals environment, she said, "I thrive on pressure!"
Coach Maj. Dave Johnson is a longtime smallbore shooter who got his start with the famed Langley Junior Rifle Club in Virginia and later was an NCAA individual rifle champion as a member of the West Virginia University team.
In his distinguished shooting career he's won numerous medals at the Pan American Games, Championships of the Americas, World Cups and national competitions. He
was a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic team as well, Dave's coaching career includes a successful run at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where his team captured three individual titles and two team NCAA championships.
Dave became U.S. rifle coach in 2002 and has since has seen two of his athletes win Olympic medals at the 2004 Games, in addition to heading up the rifle squads at the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2006 World Championships. Dave is currently on active duty with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete program.
Paralympic Coach Bob Foth is himself a three-time Olympian — including a silver medal in Men's 50m 3 Position in 1992 — plus numerous national and international medals to his credit during his shooting career. He was part of several world champion
teams and set six world records. He joined the USA Shooting staff as Youth Programs and Coach Development Manager in 2006 and assumed his new role as Paralympic Coach/Manager in April 2009.
Bob's primary duties as Paralympic Coach and Program Manager are to prepare his elite athletes to compete innational and international competitions. He also works with NRA and USAMU to build programs for disabled shooters to build a pipeline for athletes who wish to pursue the Paralympic dream.
Photos courtesy USA Shooting