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Did you know 15 shooting sports were contested in Rio Olympics?


I won a $20 bet with a friend this past week when I told him the first gold medal awarded in the Olympics is in a shooting sport.

“Nuh-unnn,” he said.

“Bet you $20,” I said. He dumbly agreed to the bet, and then did a Google search on his phone.

Not only was the first event in the Rio Olympics Women’s 10-meter Air Rifle, but a young U.S. shooter named Ginny Thrasher was the surprise winner of the gold medal. The 19-yearold from Springfield, Va., wasn’t even expected to make the finals, let alone win the gold medal.

Thrasher has been shooting only four years and had never shot in an international competition before last Saturday’s (Aug. 6) event. But it wasn’t a big surprise to the U.S. shooters she walloped in the NCAA Rifle Championships earlier this year, where Thrasher won both individual in the air rifle and smallbore rifle events. She became the first freshman to win both events and led her West Virginia University team to its fourth-straight NCAA title. It was then just three weeks later that she went to the Olympic Team Trials where she won the three-position rifle event by an incredible nine points. Unfortunately, Thrasher didn’t qualify for the semifinal and medals rounds in the Women’s 50-meter Three-Position Smallbore Rifle event, shooting a 581x600 score for 11th place.

I told my friend this story as he dug a $20 bill out of his wallet.

But you would never have known any of this by watching the television coverage of the Olympics -- or by reading most newspaper stories. You might have seen it in fine print buried in the results somewhere.

Then Friday (Aug. 12), well-known Southern California shooter Kim Rhode won the bronze medal in Women’s Skeet Shooting. The feat makes her the first woman Olympian to capture medals in six consecutive Olympics. You would think this would have nudged at least a minute of the NBC coverage away from beach volleyball or Michael Phelps in prime time. This is an historic event. Unprecidented.

And skeet shooting would make for exciting television. The small clay targets are launched at blazing speed and broken into puff of powdered clay in mid-air by the shotgun shooters hurling a little over an ounce of tiny pellets after the targets.

Rhode qualified in second place breaking 72 of 75 targets thrown in the preliminary round. In the semifinal round she broke 14 of 16 targets, tying with teammate Morgan Craft for the final spot in the bronze medal round. In the sudden death shoot-off Rhode broke four straight targets while Craft missed her fourth shot, giving the berth to Rhode.

To win the bronze, Rhode powdered 15 of 16 clays with her Perazzi, but Meng Wei of China literally matched her shot for shot, also breaking 15 targets, and forcing a sudden death shoot-off for the medal. Wei missed her seventh target, while Rhode broke seven straight.

A pair of Italians won the gold and silver medals with Diana Bascosi beating her teammate Chaira Canero in the gold medal final, both shooting higher scores in the semifinal than Rhode to vie for the gold.

Overall, there are 15 shooting events contested in the Olympic games. In addition to the gold won by Thrasher and bronze won by Rhode, Corey Cogdell won the bronze medal in the Women’s Trap Shooting competition. The only reason you may have heard about this story is because it was a big deal on social media. The Chicago Tribune ran a headline that read “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.” Twitter was all a-tweet with people outraged that the newspaper was defining her achievement by her husband. Cogdell and her husband Mitch Unrein were more amused by the outrage than offended by the story, but she said she did like one tweet that read, “Husband of Olympian tries to make Super Bowl team.” She sent that one to her husband who got a laugh out of it.

Cogdell is a shooter and hunter originally from Eagle River, Alaska, so she is accustomed to be ignored or even belittled by the media. But like Rhode, she has been a powerhouse for the U.S. Shooting Team for a decade. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.

The three medals won by the U.S. women have been largely ignored in the media, unless you read a newspaper in one of their hometowns. So of course you won’t hear the great human interest stories about the other shooters, learn about the competitions, or be amazed by the incredible feats involved.

GOOGLE THIS: You might, however, want to do an Internet search on U.S. woman’s pistol shooter Shejaj Shehaf Berkurti and her long and incredible journey from Albania to the U.S. and back to the Olympics after a 20-year hiatus. She didn’t win any medals, but hers is a heart-warming story of triumph.

AMAZING PRECISION: It is interesting to note (at least for shooters) that all 47 competitors in the men’s 50-meter prone rifle event shot what would have historically been considered perfect scores in the 60-shot preliminary -- well sort of. The shots are now digitally scored. In the distant past, a 10-point score was the highest you could receive if your .22 caliber bullet cut or was inside the 10.4 mm (just under a half-inch) scoring ring. Today, an absolute dead-center shot on that bullseye will score 10.9. Remember, that half-inch bullseye is 50 meters downrange and you are shooting a rifle with open peep sights (no scopes). The low score in the preliminary was 617.7 with the high a 629.0. U.S. shooters Michael McPhail (622.9 and 19th place) and David Higgins (617.7 for 40th place) didn’t make the top eight, which qualify for the medal rounds. Shotgun shooters like to joke that the prone rifle event is a competition to see who can lay of the ground the stillest. In this event, there are three factors that determine the winners: the quality of firearm being used, the quality of the ammunition being shot, and the eyesight of the shooter. All of those guys can lay still.

WATCH THIS: You think American shotgun sports are challenging? Watch the final round of the Men’s Double Trap event from the Rio Olympics (easy to find on the Internet). The two United States shooters failed to reach the medal round. However, Joshua Redmond finished in a tie with the eventual gold medalist Fehaid Aldeehani, an independent athletic from Kuwait, and China’s Hu Binyuan, for the sixth and last spot to advance to the semifinal round. All three shot 135 of 150 targets in the preliminary round (75 pairs of targets). Redmond missed his 12th target of the sudden death shootoff to finish 7th overall in the competition. Aldeehani won the semifinal round with a score of 28x30 and then shot 26x30 in the gold medal round to win the title. Glenn Eller, who was shooting in his fifth Olympics, finished the competition in 14th place after shooting a 131x150 in the preliminary round. Eller won the gold in this event in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

THE FINAL EVENT DRAMA: The final shooting event in the Rio Olympics, the Men’s 50-meter Three-Position Rifle competition, was won by Niccolo Campriani of Italy on Sunday on the final shot of the competition. He was trailing Sergey Kamenskiy of Russia by 6/10s of a point, which really should have been an insurmountable lead.

Kamenskiy had shot 1,184 (67x) out of 1,200 in the 120-shot preliminary, with incredible scores of 397 in kneeling and 390 in standing to lead the top eight qualifiers into the final round. Meanwhile, Campriani was the eighth and final qualifier in the preliminary round with an 1,174-62x score. But the preliminary scores are wiped away, and the final eight shooters start on even footing, shooting 15 shots kneeling, 15 shots prone, and then 10 shots standing. After those 40 shots, the two shooters with the lowest scores are eliminated, finishing seventh and eighth. The remaining six shooters fire another shot offhand, and the shooter with the lowest aggregate final score is eliminated and finishes sixth. This continues until there are just two shooters left.

At this point Kamenskiy fired his worst standing shot of the competition, scoring a dismal 8.3-points, and Campriani’s shot scored 9.2, but vaulted him from silver to unexpected gold.

U.S. Shooter Matt Emmons finished 19th in the competition with an 1169 (58x) of 1200, shooting a perfect 400 in his specialty, the prone portion of the event. Emmons won gold in the prone event in 2004 and silver in 2008, set a world record in three-position earlier this year (see this story: Fellow U.S. Shooter Daniel Lowe was 29th even though he finished just a single point lower than Emmons with a 1,168(52x)x1,200.

COMPLETE RESULTS: Complete shooting results are available on the Rio Olympics results website. The reality is that the United States should do much better than we do in the shooting events, but our team is poorly funded, inadequately sponsored, and we have too few ranges where Olympic-style events can be shot. The cost of ammunition alone makes the events expensive. But as a nation of shooters, we could and should dominate these sports just like we do in other venues. Just three medals in 15 events is a poor outcome.


[Jim Matthews, who covered the shooting sports in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles for Associated Press, is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 909-887-3444.]

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