Catching Up With Olympic Medalist Mary Tucker

Tokyo 2020 silver medalist Mary Tucker is aiming for gold in Paris this summer.

by
posted on February 20, 2024
Marytucker2024 1
After graduating from West Virginia University in 2023, Tucker has been focused squarely on competing at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Brittany Nelson

When she first started shooting competitively, Mary Tucker did not realize that Air Rifle and Air Pistol shooting were Olympic sports. In fact, as a high school student in Sarasota, Fla., she said she wasn’t aware that she could earn a scholarship and compete in NCAA matches. Now, six year later, her life has changed dramatically and Tucker has a long list of collegiate, national and international accomplishments on her shooting résumé.

Mary Tucker with silver medal
Mary Tucker, a Tokyo 2020 Olympic silver medalist, will be making her second Olympic Games appearance this summer in Paris competing in the Women’s Air Rifle event. (Photo by Brittany Nelson)

 

In college, she competed for the University of Kentucky (2019-2022) and West Virginia University (2022-2023). In 2020, she was NCAA Smallbore Individual National Champion, NCAA Air Rifle Individual National Champion and NCAA Overall Individual National Champion. She became a member of Team USA for the first time and was preparing to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But, the international covid pandemic had different plans for her and her teammates. Tucker admitted the sudden shutdown was difficult for her.

“It was definitely really hard for me,” Tucker said. “It was the day before NCAA championships, my first one of my freshman year. And NCAA was canceled. And I was like, oh my God, we had been working so hard. It was at my home range and everybody was so excited. We were going to win.”

Two days later, the Tokyo 2020 Games were postponed. “One day after the Games were rescheduled, we got kicked out of our dorms. So, it was just like, everything happened at once. I went home—I just put everything in my car, and went home,” she said.

Back home in Sarasota, Tucker said she put her guns away and didn’t practice for four months. Then, in late August when classes resumed, Tucker began practicing and competing again. In retrospect, she realizes now that taking the time off actually worked to her advantage.

“I had to start shooting again because of NCAA and I came back stronger then and more motivated. The delay due to covid actually helped me a lot,” she added.

Mary Tucker on The Today Show
At the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Tucker made an appearance on the “Today Show” with USA Shooting teammate Lucas Kozeniesky. (Photo by Brittany Nelson)

 

In 2021, her junior year at Kentucky, she finished as the NCAA Overall Individual National Champion and won gold in 10m Air Rifle and 50m Smallbore. She was also named the Most Outstanding Performer. In addition, while competing at the 2021 ISSF World Cup in New Delhi, she captured gold, silver and bronze medals.

As a member of Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics (July 23-August 8, 2021), Tucker brought home a silver medal in the Mixed Team Air Rifle event. She placed sixth in Individual Air Rifle competition and 13th in the Individual Smallbore competition.

“Something that was really important to me, after Tokyo, was coming back and still being one of the top shooters. The Junior World Championships in 2021 was very important for me, just because I did shoot all the events, and I was able to bring home six medals,” she said.

For her senior year in college (2022- 2023), Tucker transferred to West Virginia University. She continued to work on her shooting, training six days a week for five or six hours and had a stellar competitive year. In fact, she scored a perfect 600 at the NCAA Qualifier, becoming the seventh shooter in WVU history to hit that mark. She scored a 596 or better in Air Rifle across all 13 matches in her final collegiate year.

In May of 2023, Tucker graduated from WVU with a degree in health and wellbeing. Since graduation, life has changed dramatically for Tucker. Her focus now is on competing and training for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Mary Tucker
Tucker made her Pan Am Games debut last year and won the gold medal in Women’s 50m Smallbore Rifle, also setting a new record in the process. (Photo by Joshua Schave)

 

Last July, Tucker moved to the Czech Republic to work with a new shooting coach, Matt Emmons, a retired U.S. Olympic shooter who captured three medals (gold, silver and bronze) at the Olympic Games in 2004, 2008 and 2012. Emmons married Czech sport shooter and Olympic champion Katerina Kurkova in Pizen, Czech Republic, in 2007. They both live and train in Pizen.

“My coach does a really good job of giving me training plans. He’s very knowledgeable of both shooting itself and the situation with trials. I rely on him a lot,” she said.

Tucker reflected on the changes over the past year.

“So right now is actually a little bit different for me than normal, I would say the last four years, maybe longer than that even, I would shoot six days a week about five or six hours a day. And then I have strength training and stuff on top of that,” she said. “But since I’m not in school anymore, my schedule is mostly travel. I have more matches than I do training days. So, when I do have training days, I have to remember to not overload and not be too picky about what I’m working on. Just pick one or two little things to try to improve on and do better.”

Mary Tucker & Lucas Kozeniesky
At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Tucker and Lucas Kozeniesky earned silver in Mixed Team 10m Air Rifle, giving the U.S. its fourth shooting medal of the Games. (Photo by Brittany Nelson)

 

Olympic trials for rifle and pistol are well underway and she is clearly in the running to represent the United States at the Paris 2024 Olympics. Despite having gun problems at the United States Olympic Trials Part One held at the end of September 2023, Tucker was sitting in the number two overall spot in Women’s 50m Smallbore Rifle, and third overall in Women’s 10m Air Rifle.

In October 2023, she captured a gold medal at the Pan American Games held in Santiago, Chile. She was the 2023 Pan American Games Champion in Women’s 50m Smallbore Rifle with a final score of 458.4, setting a new Pan American Games final record. She also brought home a silver in Women’s Air Rifle and gold in Mixed Team Air Rifle.

Mary Tucker & Sagen Maddalena
At the 2023 Pan Am Games, Tucker went head-to-head with teammate Sagen Maddalena in the Women’s 10m Air Rifle final, with Tucker earning a bronze medal. (Photo by Joshua Schave)

 

Last December, she completed the second round of Olympic Trials and she is leading the field in Smallbore and Air Rifle. She finished in first place in the Winter Air Gun Championship and second place in Smallbore Olympic Trials. (Tucker secured her spot on the Paris 2024 team after the USA Shooting Air Gun Olympic Trials Part Three in January 2024—Ed.)

Tucker said competing in the Olympic trials for the Paris 2024 Games is much different from when she competed for a spot on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic team.

“I definitely have to approach this quad differently than last one,” she said. “My fellow teammate, Ally (Alison Weisz) and I talked a lot about how we have a lot of pressure coming back into these trials and having to make the scores that we’ve been shooting all year. Being the ones who were on the team in Tokyo is just an additional layer of pressure for us. I must go into it with confidence and know that where I am now is good. It’s better than I have probably ever been. I’m still improving and learning.”

Mary Tucker
While competing at the Paris 2024 Olympics is at the forefront, Tucker also has hopes to be a member of Team USA for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics. (Photo by Brittany Nelson)

 

For the next few months, Tucker’s focus will be on competing at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“I mean, obviously, I want the Olympic medals in all the events that I compete in. So that’s pretty important to me, and kind of at the forefront right now. But other than that—to be good as long as I can be. And continue moving up, improving and learning with the sport,” she added.

Long term, Tucker is hoping to continue competing and potentially be a member of Team USA for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games. She is also considering returning to school for a master’s degree in sports psychology and then having a career helping other shooters as a coach.

So, what advice does Tucker have for young shooters just getting started in competitive shooting?

“I think there are a lot of things that are important, but they just need to remember to keep it fun, and not put too much pressure on themselves,” she said. “The point of sport is to have fun, make friends and get to the point where you can have all these opportunities to get scholarship and travel. But if you don’t enjoy it, then it’s not worth it. So, I definitely think keeping it fun and enjoyable is the biggest thing for juniors.”

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