Olympic Observations

Jun 12, 2012
Ladies lined up to shoot for one of the remaining spots on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Jim Shepherd/OWDN photo.

SFC Keith Sanderson has locked down his spot on the Olympic Team. He did it by tying the world record in rapid-fire pistol-and keeping his mind on his targets.Jim Shepherd/OWDN photo.
Having spent a day at USA Shooting's Olympic Qualifying event at Fort Benning last week, I have a considerably enlightened respect for the abilities of Olympic-style shooters.

Granted, Olympic-style shooting as its practiced today is more of an exacting science or mental and physical discipline than the run-and-gun style shooting so popular on TV and in IDPA, USPSA, Cowboy, or 3-Gun. Not calling these shooters athletes, however, would be doing them an injustice.

They're not running, jumping, pitching or catching, but they're holding heavy firearms extremely still for extended periods of time. Holding a pistol at arm's length might not look so difficult, but holding it still is considerably tougher than you'd imagine. And the rifles used in air rifle aren't Red Ryder BB-guns, they're long, heavy and capable of shooting an x-ring that's the exact size of the head of the projectile they're firing.

Competitors use every available device, and some they've fabricated for themselves when it comes to holding their shots on-target. Every shooter- precision or not- knows that keeping the sights and the bore of the weapon in perfect alignment is essential. Not all of us use a level. Jim Shepherd/OWDN photo.
But they battle the fact their sport is a tightly regimented discipline. The stopwatch is nearly as important as any piece of gear. The lady shooters in air rifle had seventy five seconds in which to take each shot. Waiting for six or eight of them to shoot was amazingly nerve wracking. Several times the last shot seemed to still be in the air when the "stop" command was given.

One thing that helped with keeping track of the shooting is the Olympic-style instant scoring targets. A shot impacted and almost instantly the location on the target and the scoring value was displayed. In "action" shooting, there would be screams of approval at every 10.0 or higher shot. In Olympic shooting, the crowds don't applaud anything less than a 10.0. Did I mention the crowd knows about shooting?

As a TV producer, I can see NBC Sports' challenge to make the Olympic shooting events compelling content. Seventy five seconds is a lifetime in television. Even notorious talk-all-the-time play by play announcers like Al Michaels or Brent Musberger would run out of steam before the final shot was taken in each of the 10-shot strings.

When Bob Mitchell watches competitions, he sees more than today- he sees the potential for Olympic medals in 2012-or going forward. Jim Shepherd/OWDN photo.
So, there will be some made-for-TV changes ahead for Olympic shooting. According to USA Shooting head Bob Mitchell, those changes will include low-shooter out "bumping" in the finals. At regular intervals the lower scoring shooters would be bumped. Eventually, the competition would come down to the two top shooters in what might be called head-to-head competition.

"Not everyone will like the changes," Mitchell told me between events, "Some will absolutely hate them. After a while, they'll realize the events are actually more engaging. At that point, they'll be endorsing the changes."

Personally, I'm glad someone else is making the decisions. The crowds weren't huge, but the knowledge displayed by nearly everyone in the stands watching the matches was the equivalent of sitting in an owner's box at a horse race. Everyone knows a good bit about the business. Many have the experience gained in a lifetime of competition shooting. The younger shooters aren't phased by any of that. They step to the line, shut out the world with what I'd call "X-Box concentration" and make their shots.

After Friday's competition, Olympic nominees gathered for a photo. Before the London Games conclude, they'll be among the most photographed people on the planet. Jim Shepherd/OWDN photo.
OK, it might not be fast, but it is entertaining. If the weekend competition's any indication, the 2012 London Olympics beginning July 27 may be breakthrough games for our shooters.

We're working on our Olympic special edition right now, and will have it ready well in advance of July 27. It'll help you know more about the sports- and decipher the amazingly complicated matrix of NBC Sports' unprecedented levels of coverage.

As always, we'll keep you posted.

--Jim Shepherd