By Michael Molinaro
LONDON - In front of an enthusiastic crowd keen to see the first medals of the London Olympics handed out, Jamie Gray, wife of a U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Soldier, competed in women's 10-meter air rifle June 28 at the Royal Artillery Barracks, the first official event of the games of the XXX Olympiad.
The two-time Olympian finished in fifth place, making the final in the event for a second consecutive Olympics. Gray shot a qualification of 397 followed with a final round of 102.7 for an overall score of 499.7, a little more than three points behind Siling Yi of China, who won the gold after scoring a 502.9.
"Personally I think I shot 39 great shots," said Gray, who finished fourth in air rifle at the Beijing games. "You can't ask for more than that. I knew I had to have a great final to have a chance. Bottom line is you can't win a medal with a 397. It's not good enough at the Olympics."
The day was a roller coaster of sorts for Gray, who is married to Staff Sgt. Hank Gray. After an equipment issue had her scurrying for tools and a quick fix, she started with a perfect 100 before shooting a 99 and a 98. Two of the three dropped shots were 9.9s, meaning she missed two more tens by mere millimeters.
With her on the outside looking in with ten shots to go, Gray nailed on all ten shots in the center ring, putting her into a five person shoot-off for the four remaining spots in the eight-person final.
Among those in the shoot-off were U.S. teammate Sarah Scherer and good friend Katerina Emmons, the 2008 Beijing gold medalist in the event who hails from Czerch Republic. All three women made the final.
"Of course I was pulling for all three of us to make it," Gray said. "At the same time my focus was on my own shooting so I couldn't worry about what they were doing."
Heading into the final, Gray, a native of Lebanon, Pa., was in sixth place but only one point out of a medal. After the first three shots, she found herself in eighth place along with an old back problem that started to flare up. Similar to the qualification round, she forged ahead and clawed back into contention with a solid string of shots but time ran out on her quest for a medal.
"She's always been a fighter," said Maj. Dave Johnson, the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and USA Shooting rifle coach. "We've had her on the team since she was 16. She exhibited that toughness back then and still does."
Europe is known as the home of shooting and they did not disappoint. The atmosphere was more fitting for an NCAA Final Four game as the sold-out crowd made for a scene like no other in shooting sports. Music blared while the finalists prepared for the final round and spectators from around the globe waved their country's flags.
"The crowd was amazing," Gray said. "We don't have that outside of a final in our sport in the states. It was awesome. I think it would be awesome if every match was like that."
Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, was among those in attendance to watch the event. Yi came into the match the heavy favorite and came out on top after a competitive back-and-forth with Sylwia Bogacka of Poland and fellow countryman Dan Yu, who won the silver and bronze medals, respectively.
"I was up since five in the morning," said Yi. "There was a lot of pressure on me. I was quite nervous but just focused on the competition."
The mission now for Gray and the coaches is to move on and refocus her attention to her next event, women's three-position rifle. Gray will have to wait seven days before getting another chance at a medal, which is a blessing in disguise now with the developing back issue.
"It's great to have a break and try to get that under control," Gray said, referring to her back pain. "I am excited to get on the range tomorrow and get some range time and get in positions again now that air gun is over."
Parts of what makes the Olympics what it is are the stories about athletes who overcome some kind of adversity to make their dreams come true. Gray has just missed a medal in three events in her Olympic career and despite a bad back, equipment issues or anything else that may disrupt her normal routine, her coach said there is no doubt that she will be game-ready in her next event.
"In Beijing she just missed a medal and it was painful but the experience helped her shoot well a couple days later," said Johnson. "She just got more experience in a final again with this match. I expect her to make another final and we'll see what happens."
LONDON -- Jamie Gray competes in the 10-meter air rifle match today at the Royal Artillery Barracks, the first medal event of the games of the XXX Olympiad. Gray, wife of a U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Soldier, finished in fifth place overall after scoring a 499.7 in the first of her two Olympic events, three points behind gold medalist Siling Yi of China. She now sets her sights on three-position rifle, will take place Aug. 4.
(Photo by Michael Molinaro, USAMU PAO)