While the wide variety of shooting competitions continue at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, American shooters have already represented their country quite well, with more medals sure to come.
In fact, an American teenage air rifle shooter won the very first gold medal awarded in the 2016 Games on Saturday. Virginia Thrasher, a 19-year-old sophomore at West Virginia University, won the 10-meter air rifle event, narrowly beating China’s Du Li, a former Olympic gold medalist, by just one point.
"This is beyond my wildest dreams," Thrasher said. "I knew it was a realistic expectation for me to get into the finals, and once you get into the finals, anything can happen. For me, this year has been incredible."
Formerly a figure skater, Thrasher took up shooting just five years ago after going on a deer hunting trip with family members. “In the finals, about halfway through, it kind of became clear to me that I was in contention for a medal,” Thrasher said. “But I quickly pushed that thought away and focused on breathing, just taking one shot at a time.”
Thrasher couldn’t overstate how exciting participating in the Olympics had been for her.
“This is very special for me. For me to start out Rio 2016 with a gold medal for the U.S.A. makes me incredibly proud,” Thrasher said. “I’m happy to positively represent my country.”"This is beyond my wildest dreams." — Olympic gold medalist Virginia Thrasher
Thrasher’s teammate, 25-year-old Sarah Scherer, finished eighth among the event’s 50 competitors. For Scherer, who has been fighting serious back problems due to herniated discs, this was expected to be her last Olympics.
On Sunday, Corey Cogdell-Unrein earned the bronze medal in women’s trap at the 2016 Games. That bronze medal adds to her Olympic tally, as she also won a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Cogdell-Unrein finished 11th in 2012, and was pleased to be back on the podium in Rio.
“I can hardly put into words what it means to me to have won my second Olympic medal yesterday, another bronze,” she posted Monday on Facebook. “To stand on top of the podium again after an eight-year absence, it's hard not to take the time to reflect on how far I have come.”
But the 29-year-old shooter from Eagle River, Alaska, didn’t take the credit for herself, despite hours, months and years of hard work and preparation.
“I can hardly put into words what it means to me to have won my second Olympic medal yesterday, another bronze.” — Women’s trap medal winner Corey Cogdell-Unrein“I can only ultimately give the glory to one person, Jesus,” she said. “He has given me the personal strength to carry on day after day and placed all the right people in my life to help me along this journey. I went to God so many times this week for comfort, patience and strength, and he delivered all of that—including an extra bonus of this beautiful Olympic Bronze Medal.”
Later today, shooting legend Kim Rhode will step up to the line and try to become the first U.S. athlete in history to medal in six straight Olympic games. The veteran shotgunner ruled Olympic double trap competition for years, winning a gold in Atlanta in 1996, bronze in Sydney in 2000, and gold in 2004 in Athens. After switching to skeet shooting, Rhode took silver in Beijing in 2008 and gold again in London in 2012.
Rhode is looking forward to her opportunity to win a medal in her sixth consecutive Olympics, but such a chance to make history doesn’t come without a bit of pressure.
“The pressure’s definitely there,” she recently told Time magazine.
Rhode has hinted that perhaps Rio won’t be her last Olympic games.
“I have a few years left in me,” she recently told USA Today. “I’m not looking to retire anytime soon. I'd also like to show my son that if you have a goal or a dream, you can achieve it with hard work and determination. Being able to let him see Mom work every day at something and go to the Olympics and watch that, I think hopefully will change his life and his perspective.”