Above: West Virginia University rifle coach Jon Hammond and 2016 Rio Olympics gold medalist Ginny Thrasher. Regarding Thrasher, Hammond said, "The amount of improvement she has made, all the preparation and work learning our system at WVU before going to Rio—all while maintaining the same high standards at practice, that is a very hard thing to do." Photo by WVU Athletics.
Of the five rifle shooting events in the 2016 Rio Olympics—four were won by products of U.S. Intercollegiate Shooting programs: Niccolo Campriani (Men’s Air Rifle and Three Position); Henri Junghaenel: (Men’s Prone) and Virginia Thrasher (Women’s Air Rifle).
In the May 1954 American Rifleman, in an article interviewing five of America’s finest international rifle shooters, the question was posed: Does any type of present-day competition lead into free-rifle shooting?
Robert (“Sandy”) Sandager replied, in part, “It is my opinion that present-day college gallery shooting leads very naturally into free-rifle shooting and it is primarily because of scarcity of suitable outdoor ranges and lack of competition which prevents continued development of young shooters after they leave school. Perhaps many of our fine college shooters would move into the free-rifle phase if they only had the opportunity.” The above three individuals are, in significant part, products of university shooting team programs at West Virginia University (Thrasher and Campriani) and University of Kentucky (Junghaenel).
To be fair, we didn’t have to wait sixty-two years to see Sandy’s prediction come true. From its creation in 1956, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) brought clinics to many colleges and universities—not only to teach the collegians the right way to shoot but as a recruiting tool for the AMU.
Shooters like Lones Wigger, Jack Foster, Margaret Thompson Murdock, Glen Dubis and Lanny Bassham, to name just a few, are examples of those who made the transition from collegiate to international achievement. Some current Olympians who have made the collegiate-international connection include Jamie Beyerly Corkish and Matt Emmons.
These successful shooters likely did not learn to shoot in college; most were, I suspect, products of good, solid NRA junior shooting programs—or of similar programs in their native countries: Italy (Campriani) and Germany (Junghaenel). Virginia Thrasher shoots with the Optimist-Acorns Junior Rifle Club in Northern Virginia.