U.S. shotgunners capture three medals—one of them gold—but rifle and pistol competitors falter.
We spent two weeks at the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games watching the world’s best rifle, pistol, and shotgun shooters compete head to head for the most prestigious prizes in the sport. Because the No Bullet Competitions television network, also known as NBC, did next to nothing on the 15 shooting sports, you probably don’t know how the U.S. shooters fared, nor could you find out who was winning the shooting events from many other sources. Well, we were there, and here’s our behind-the-scenes event-by-event report on who’s up—and who’s down—in the Olympic shooting sports:
The Big Picture For The U.S.
For the first time in 60 years, U.S. rifle and pistol competitors were shut out of the shooting medals. Except for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, which the U.S. team boycotted, the last time American shooters did not claim at least one rifle or pistol medal was way back in 1936.
Moreover, outside of the shotgun events, in which Americans won one gold, one silver, and one bronze in Hotlanta, U.S. shooters had few chances to medal. Only three Americans made the finals in their respective events: Rob Harbison in men’s 10-meter air rifle and men’s 50-meter 3×40 rifle, Elizabeth Bourland in women’s 50-meter 3×20 rifle, and Bill Meek in men’s 50-meter prone rifle. Meantime, other countries’ shooters made out like bandits. Russian shooters won six shooting medals, followed by the Chinese and Italians with five each. Other countries with strong showings included Bulgaria and Germany. In the overall medal count, the U.S. tied with Poland, Kazakhstan, and Australia with three medals each.
Below, we summarize the final Olympic standings on an event-by-event basis, including our assessment of the U.S. effort in Atlanta. We also score ourselves on our pre-Olympic picks, which were published in the June 1996 Performance Shooter.
Men’s 10-Meter Air Pistol
This event had a shocking finale that sent one of the competitors to the hospital. Wang Yifu of China, who won a gold medal in the event in Barcelona, lead the field coming out of the preliminaries with a 587/600. He lead his closest challengers, Roberto Di Donna of Italy and Jerzy Pietrzak of Poland, by two points. In fact, his 587 was an Olympic record qualification-round score.
Through nine shots of the final, it seemed like Wang would be unstoppable. He widened his lead to nearly 4 points. Then, on his last shot, he delayed firing and put his gun down. On the closed-circuit television feed he looked confused as he raised his Steyr air pistol for his last shot. He fired, and the electronic display showed the score as a 6.5. Di Donna fired a 10.4 on his last round to overtake Wang by 0.1 point, 684.2 to 684.1. Tanu Kiriakov of Bulgaria took third with a 683.8.
Before the medals ceremony could begin, Wang collapsed and was taken out of the Wolf Creek 50-meter range on a stretcher. His coach and other Chinese team spokesmen offered conflicting statements about what ailed Wang. One official said he was a diabetic. Another said he had low blood pressure. Another said the shooter had been affected by the heat. No one mentioned how heavy a gold medal can be when it’s not around your neck.
Gold medalist Di Donna said, “Pressure is the key element of our sport. I felt it in the qualifications, and my score suffered. I’m sure he fell to it on the final shot.”
The top U.S. finisher was Neal Caloia. He shot a qualification round score of 571, which placed him in a tie for 41st. Ben Amonette finished in a tie for 44th place with a 569.
Bottom Line: U.S. shooters have a lot of ground to make up in this event, as we previously noted in the June issue. We nailed the medal match-up in our earlier forecast, saying the event would be a duel between Di Donna and Wang.
Women’s 10-Meter Air Rifle
Renata Mauer of Poland came from two points down in the final to overtake Petra Horneber of Germany for the gold medal. Mauer entered the final 10-shot string with a 395/400, tied with Aleksandra Ivosev of Yugoslavia. Mauer shot a finals score of 102.6 while Horneber recorded a 100.4. (Electronic targets allow one-tenth point scoring in the finals. A perfect shot is a 10.9; a 109 is a perfect finals score.) The medal scores were Mauer 497.6; Horneber 497.4; and Ivosev 497.2.
The top U.S. finisher was Elizabeth Bourland. She shot a qualification round score of 392, which placed her in a tie for thirteenth. Nancy Napolski finished in a tie for 36th place with a 386 score.
Bottom Line: U.S. shooters gained valuable Olympic experience, but they didn’t perform at their best. Both U.S. women can shoot 395s. In the June issue, we picked Napolski as a potential Olympic medal winner based on her Atlanta UIT World Cup gold medal performance. Also, our handicapping of the Olympic medal chase was off the mark. We picked only one of the eight Atlanta finalists, Eva Joo of Hungary. She finished seventh overall.
Women’s 10-Meter Air Pistol
Russians dominated this event, with teammates Olga Klochneva and Marina Logvinenko winning the gold and silver, respectively. En route to the medals Klochneva set a new finals Olympic record of 490.1. Logvinenko logged an Olympic record score in the qualification round with a 390. Maria Grozdeva of Bulgaria took the bronze with a 488.5 final score.
The top U.S. finisher was Rebecca Snyder. She shot a qualification round score of 372, which placed her in a tie for 30th. Jo Ann Sevin finished one point back with a 371, which tied her for 32nd place.
Bottom Line: U.S. shooters need a lot of seasoning to be competitive in this event, as we noted three months ago. We picked Grozdeva as a potential medal winner in our earlier forecast.
Men’s 10-Meter Air Rifle
This event offered the U.S. a solid chance at a medal. The U.S.A.’s Rob Harbison was in second place coming out of the prelims, shooting a solid 594 to finish two points behind Wolfram Waibel, Jr. of Austria, who fired a 596. Before the finals began, the other likely medalist was Russia’s Artem Khadzhibekov, who was tied with Harbison. The rest of the field was three points back at 591—a sizable lead in this event. However, Harbison fell to seventh place when he notched a 97.8 in the finals, shooting a disappointing 8.4 on his tenth, and final, shot. The French competitor Jean-Pierre Amat shot a blistering 102.1 to lead the finals field and take the bronze. Waibel, the Olympic and world-record holder in the event, couldn’t hold off Khadzhibekov, who shot a solid finals score of 101.7 to record a 695.7 total, which was a new finals Olympic record. Thus, Waibel continued a string in the first days of competition in which the prelim leader couldn’t hold on to the top spot and claim the gold.
The other U.S. shooter was three-time Olympian Glenn Dubis. He shot a qualification round score of 576, which placed him 41st.
Bottom Line: Harbison’s first trip to the big show was a qualified success, in our opinion. He made the finals in two events—a prerequisite for learning how to handle the pressure cooker of the Olympics. The experience should stand him in good stead for other world-class events. Dubis has yet to find the secret to shooting well in the Olympics. We picked two of the top eight finishers: Waibel and Leif Steinar Rolland of Norway.
Women’s 50-Meter 3×20 Rifle
This event was filled with medalists from the women’s air rifle match. Air rifle bronze medalist Aleksandra Ivosev of Yugoslavia added a gold medal to her collection in the 50-Meter 3×20 Rifle, setting a finals Olympic record of 686.1. She beat Irina Gerasimenok of Russia (680.1) and air rifle gold medalist Renata Mauer of Poland (679.8) handily.
But both Ivosev and Gerasimenok had to come from behind to do it because Mauer shot a sizzling 589 in the qualification round, setting an Olympic record. But Mauer fell off the pace in the finals with a 90.8 score, while Ivosev shot a finals-high score of 99.1—a very good mark in the 10-shot standing finals. Gerasimenok recorded a 95.1 score in the finals.
The top United States finisher was Elizabeth Bourland. She shot a qualification round score of 583, which placed her in a tie for sixth two points behind Gerasimenok. But a 7.7 on her first finals standing shot effectively ended her bid for a medal. She dropped to seventh place with her 91.0 finals score. Jean Foster also represented the U.S. in this event. She shot a 578 to wind up in a tie for twelfth.
Bottom Line: We were surprised that a U.S. shooter made the finals in this event, so Bourland deserves credit for her performance. However, the finals are a different animal, as she found out. Had she shot a standing score equal to either of her prelim standing stages (97s), she would have won a bronze. As we predicted, Gerasimenok medaled, and Korea’s Kong Hyun-ah made the finals, finishing sixth.
Men’s 50-Meter Free Pistol
Air pistol gold medalist Roberto Di Donna of Italy wasn’t able to snatch his second gold of the Games, finishing third behind winner Boris Kokorev of Russia and Igor Basinski of Belarus. In fact, Di Donna faltered in this event. Coming out of the prelims, he was only a point behind Kokorev at 569, but the Russian’s strong final score of 96.4 pushed Kokorev to a 666.4 total and a finals Olympic record score. Di Donna shot a 92.8, which included a 7.2 on his eighth finals round shot. That gave Basinski an opening to come from four points back (565 qualification round score) to take the silver with 97.0 finals score and a 662.0 total. Di Donna finished with a 661.8.
Wang Yifu of China recovered enough from his air pistol fainting spell to make the finals. He finished sixth with a 659.3.
The top U.S. finisher was Ben Amonette. He shot a qualification round score of 555, which placed him in a tie for 25th. Neal Caloia finished eleven points back with a 544, which tied him for 39th place.
Bottom Line: As we predicted, the U.S. shooters wouldn’t be in the chase, and Di Donna and Wang would contest for a medal.
Men’s 50-Meter Prone
Germany’s Christian Klees shot a new finals world record in this event, posting 704.8 out of 709 points. Silver medalist Sergey Beliaev of Kazakhstan shot a 703.3, while the bronze went to Slovakia’s Jozef Gönci at 701.9.
Forty-three-year-old Bill Meek of Upland, California, turned in the highest U.S. finish with a 698.9. He shot a 597 in the prelims and followed that up with a 101.9 finals score. That earned him eighth place overall. U.S. shooter Eric Uptagrafft finished 30th with a 592.
Bottom Line: This is the most closely competed Olympic shooting event in terms of score, and as many as two dozen shooters are capable of winning any given match. Klees was untouchable all day, shooting a record 600 in the prelims and 104.8 in the finals, or an average of nearly 10.5 on each shot. No one was going to catch him. Of his eighth-place effort, one notch better than his ninth-place finish in Barcelona, Meek said, “I’ve matured a little bit. In ‘92, I was devastated. You have to appreciate the journey and not be totally focused on the destination. I didn’t finish as high as I would have liked or expected, but I didn’t leave anything in back.”
Of our favorites for the prone medal slots, Meek made the finals. Our other picks didn’t make the cut.
Men’s Rapid-Fire Pistol
As expected, Germany’s Ralf Schumann took the gold with a 698.0, besting silver medalist Emil Milev of Bulgaria by 5.9 points. Vladimir Vokhmyanin of Kazakhstan shot a 691.5 to win the bronze medal.
U.S. shooter John McNally finished 12th with a 583, followed by teammate Roger Mar in 18th place. Mar shot a 581.
Bottom Line: In terms of pre-Olympic forecasting, Schumann was as much a lock as Michael Johnson was in the 200- or 400-meter track events. Schumann hasn’t been defeated in a major competition in more than two years. He holds the world and Olympic records for the events. Poland’s Krzyszt Kucharczyk was the last person to beat Schumann. He finished fourth. We thought McNally might medal.
Women’s Sport Pistol
China’s Duihong Li took the sport pistol gold and set an Olympic record with an aggregate match and final score of 687.9. Diana Yorgova of Bulgaria was second at 684.8, and Russia’s Marina Logvinenko claimed the bronze with 684.2.
Connie Petracek of the U.S. tied for ninth place, one spot out of the finals. She shot a 578. Libby Callahan, her teammate, was 23rd with a 573 score.
“I’m not happy with what I did,” Callahan said. “I wasn’t patient with the trigger or with precision. I’ve been having problems with precision. I’m getting better at it, but I just wasn’t consistent.” Petracek, who finished 29th in the event in Barcelona, said, “It’s a better performance than I had in Barcelona. If I had shot what I shot at the trials, I’d be at the top of the list. But it’s not then, and you can’t do anything about that except continue to train and try to improve.”
Bottom Line: At 48 and 44 years of age respectively, Petracek and Callahan will be hard pressed to keep pace with the world’s younger shooters. One of our picks, Nino Salukvadze of Georgia, made the finals.
Men’s Running Target
China’s Yang Ling set a new finals Olympic record en route to winning the gold medal in the men’s running target event. He was followed by teammate Xiao Jun, who took the silver, and Czech Republic shooter Miroslav Janus, who won the bronze. Ling’s record score was 685.8. Jun shot a 679.8 and Janus a 678.4.
The U.S. fielded a single shooter in the event, 21-year-old Adam Saathoff of Hereford, Arizona. He shot a combined 555 to finish out of the finals in 20th place. Saathoff said, “I don’t know what went wrong in the slow runs, but I felt fairly good toward the end of my string in fast runs. My fast-run score overall was pretty good. I had two or three shots that were kind of out there. Without those, it would’ve been a real nice score, because I only had a couple of nines.”
Bottom Line: With his Olympic experience at a young age, Saathoff has a promising running target future in front of him. However, the Chinese and central European shooters will always be tough. We tapped Janus as a likely medalist, and another shooter we thought would do well, Dmitri Lykine of Russia, finished fifth. Also, in June we mistakenly reported that U.S. shooter Lonn Saunders had made the team, but only Saathoff qualified.
Men’s 50-Meter 3×40 Rifle
Jean-Pierre Amat of France won this event with a 1273.9 score, followed by Sergey Beliaev of Kazakhstan (1273.3) and Wolfram Waibel Jr. of Austria (1269.6). The U.S.A.’s Rob Harbison began the finals tied with Waibel at 1170, but finished out of the medals in sixth place with a 97.7 finals score and a total of 1267.7. “I had a great day,” Harbison said. “An 1170 is a great score. A medal would have been super. That’s what every competitor comes here to do, but I’m thrilled with my performances here. I had a personal best in air rifle and close to a personal best in standing.”Glenn Dubis, the other U.S. shooter, finished in tenth place with an 1165. Dubis said, “An 1165 is not a bad score, but it’s not good enough.”
Bottom Line: Though first-time Olympian Harbison fell in the rankings each time he made a final, he gained valuable Olympic experience. He should challenge for an Olympic medal in Sydney. Earlier, we picked Wolfram Waibel Jr. of Austria to medal.