When nations from around the world sent some of their finest athletes to London for the Olympic Games, the occasion, for many, represented the pinnacle of their competitive careers. Among those athletes were shooters.
For the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association of the firearm, ammunition, hunting and shooting-sports industry in the US, those shooters provided gratifying moments, in part because we have been able to watch many of these athletes develop.
Bringin ’em on
For example, the NSSF established the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) to allow youth to become acquainted with trap shooting while developing character traits such as teamwork, leadership and self-esteem.
A year later skeet and sporting clays were added to SCTP’s offerings. Nearly 30,000 youngsters from elementary school to high school participated during the time that the NSSF administered the programme. Many of the members of the USA Shooting Team today were participants in SCTP.
After NSSF handed over the administrative reins to the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, the NSSF continued to be a major sponsor of the programme.
While under the NSSF’s management, a high-school student from Eatontown, in Georgia, by the name of Vincent Hancock enrolled in SCTP.
His dad was, in fact, the state director for the programme. The younger Hancock had already shown shooting prowess before entering SCTP, but the programme allowed him a more competitive shooting experience.
After high school, he enlisted in the US Army, where he became part of the military’s famed marksmanship unit.
At the 2008 Games in Beijing, Vincent, as a 19-year-old, captured the gold in Men’s Skeet, reaching a lofty place on the medal stand, about which the founders of SCTP could have only fantasised when the NSSF began the programme.
Vincent did it again in London, becoming the first Olympian ever to repeat gold-medal performances in Men’s Skeet. At the same games, other American shooters distinguished themselves.
Foremost, perhaps, was Kim Rhode, a Californian who, with her near-perfect (99 out of 100) record-setting performance, accomplished something no other American Olympian in any sport had ever achieved. By earning the gold medal in Women’s Skeet, Kim became the first American ever to capture a medal in an individual event in five consecutive Olympics.
Making a song and dance
On August 22nd, 2012, NSSF applauded the efforts of the entire US Olympic shooting team in a full-page advertisement that ran in the nationally distributed USA Today newspaper.
The ad gave special tribute not only to Vincent and Kim but also to the record-setting Jamie Gray, the gold medallist in Women’s 50-metre Three-Position Rifle, and Matt Emmons, a winner of a gold and silver at previous Games, who added a bronze to his medal collection by taking third place in the Men’s 50m Three-Position Rifle event.
Beyond yielding bragging rights to nations and individual shooters, however, the Olympic shooting competition demonstrated the potential to produce far greater benefits.
In placing in the Men’s 25m Rapid Fire Pistol competition, India’s Vijay Kumar did more than simply win a silver medal. His success has inspired the government of his home state of Himachal Pradesh to commit to building a world-class shooting range to provide training facilities to young marksmen.
“It’s not just about medals,” Vincent said, after winning the gold, as quoted by the New York Times. “It’s about how big I can grow the sport and how many people I can bring into it. These kids may not be able to play basketball or baseball, but they can shoot. They’ll have a great time, especially when they break lots of targets.”