The 525 targets thrown in Men’s Skeet during the two-part U.S. Olympic Team Trials weren’t nearly enough to decide one of the nominees for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Sunday in Tucson, AZ. For three worthy adversaries, Olympic fate would go to sudden-death with a 25-target shoot-out.After a nearly flawless performance by Vincent Hancock, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist earned his way back onto another Olympic team but held off celebrating until his skeet teammate was determined. Jon Michael McGrath entered the event final three targets up on Mark Weeks and Frank Thompson and in the driver’s seat for Olympic selection.
Having missed just one target in 150 previous shots, McGrath dropped three targets in the final round, while Weeks and Thompson aced their final test with perfect 25s, forcing a 25-target shoot-off. In Olympic selection procedures, a full 25-target round is substituted for the normal sudden-death shoot-off from station four.
Thompson would continue his late-game pressure shooting with another 25, while McGrath dropped a target on station four that would secure Thompson’s Olympic spot after Weeks’ two missed clays. McGrath would question the miss on the second double, but none of the three referees saw any piece of the target break or any of the flash powder puff.
A rancher’s son, Thompson has about as even a temperament on the skeet field as any competitor going, and it proved to be his saving grace when the pressure of the day was at its highest.
“This means a lot to me. I’ve been working hard toward this goal for over eight years now, and I’m glad I finally made it,” said Thompson. “I knew I needed to hit all the targets I could, and I wasn’t really focused on score or where anybody was at. I’ve dreamt about the Olympics ever since I was a little kid, and once I knew there were Olympics in shooting, I knew that was the goal I was pushing for.”
Asked what he’ll do to celebrate his Olympic team nomination, Thompson said, “I plan to head home to Nebraska so I can help my family brand cattle.” That’s an Olympic celebration any Nebraskan would be proud of.
While all the drama was taking place behind him, the steely-eyed Hancock would have nothing of the sort for that top spot in Men’s Skeet as the mastery of his gun and focused demeanor led to an 11-point win.
“It’s a great feeling to be back again and have the opportunity to go to the Olympics and get another gold medal for the United States,” said Hancock. “I’ve been looking forward to it since the day I stepped off the podium the last time. After the first [gold medal], I really didn’t think of anything afterwards. I didn’t know where the road would take me after that. That was my goal, 2008 Olympic gold, and once I achieved it, I rode that wave high for the next couple of years. But last year it all hit bottom because I didn’t know what my purpose was. But I just reset my goals and reset my whole mindset, and now I’m back to shooting the way I used to with extremely high intensity. I really want it again.”
B J Blanchard missed two targets on station eight in the last round before final, or he may very well have been the Olympic representative. He rebounded for a 25 in the final which would have put him one target ahead for that final Olympic team spot the way the final played out. Nineteen-year-old Dustin Perry finished sixth.
In Women’s Trap, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Corey Cogdell garnered her second Olympic team spot. Down six targets coming into Tucson, the Alaska native took control with a second-day 94 and would cruise to a 10-point win Sunday.
“I’m thrilled to make another Olympic team,” said Cogdell. “I’ve learned so much over the last four years, and I’m really excited to go back and put those things into place. Anytime you’re coming back and trying to make another Olympic team, especially after winning a medal, you put more pressure on yourself and a lot more outside pressure as well. It was definitely a very emotional match. I worked really hard and have been down here training for over two weeks. Sometimes you have to do things that are not fun to accomplish your goals, and it’s just an amazing feeling knowing all the sacrifices I’ve made and all the hard work I’ve put in has paid off.”
Kayle Browning finished second, while Kelsey Zauhar finished third. Miranda Wilder, Caitlin Barney Weinheimer, and Rachael Heiden would round out the top six finishers.
Hancock, Thompson and Cogdell join teammates Glenn Eller, who earned a spot in Double Trap on Saturday, as well as Josh Richmond and Kim Rhode, who were already named to the team based on a points system, a result of their top shooting performances over the past two years.
These Olympians have a combined nine Olympic Games of experience and seven Olympic medals.
“I’m thrilled to have the team we have,” said USA Shooting National Team Coach Bret Erickson. “Over two selection matches, these athletes have demonstrated their abilities and proven themselves against unbelievable competition. I’m anxious to get them together and put the final touches on what should be a competitive team. We have a great mix of veterans and newcomers that know how to point a gun and perform under pressure.”
The Trials featured action in all of shotgun’s respective disciplines including Trap (M/W), Skeet (M/W) and Men’s Double Trap. However, Olympic spots will only be available in women’s trap (1), men’s skeet (2) and men’s double trap (1).
In Women’s Skeet, Morgan Craft claimed top honors, followed by Caitlin Connor and Brandy Drozd.
In Men’s Trap, Jacob Turner was the match winner, followed by Collin Wietfeldt and Brian Burrows.
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials for all sports is a collaborative, three-way partnership between the U.S. Olympic Committee, the national governing bodies, and the local organizing committees. All athletes nominated to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team must be approved by the U.S. Olympic Committee.