Imagine being 19 years old and in a different country, standing on an awards podium flanked by two of the best skeet shooters in the world, watching the American flag rise while the national anthem plays in the background. Pride for your country, your team and yourself all swell inside you.
This is a dream Eli Christman never thought would come true until he found himself, along with teammates Nic Moschetti and Elijah Ellis, standing on the championship podium at the 2017 ISSF World Championships in Moscow, Russia. Christman, a member of Team USA Shooting at age 19 has accomplished what many shooters could only dream of—representing the United States across the world and winning home championships.
When describing his experience winning the bronze in Moscow, Christman was at a loss for words. He said it was a moment unlike any other and the most rewarding moment of his shooting career. The raw emotions that flooded his mind described the moment perfectly.
“Honestly that is the most … It’s one of the most … I was filled with the most pride when I was in Russia and our country’s flag was being raised on the pole, and you got to hear the United States National Anthem,” Christman said. “There were so many other countries there, but yet ours was the one being played and you were one of the few wearing the colors … It was a very humbling experience.”
Christman, who competes in International Skeet (I-Skeet), began shooting when he was a freshman at Soddy-Daisy High School in his hometown of Soddy-Daisy, TN. Now a freshman at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN, he has been shooting I-Skeet for only two years.
A chance encounter with Team USA and two-time Olympic gold medalist Vincent Hancock at the 2015 SCTP National Championships in Sparta, IL, inspired Christman to give I-Skeet a try. He now competes with Hancock on Team USA, who is someone he has looked up to since the beginning.
“I was late in the game as far as competition-wise. Most people start when they are a bit younger than I was,” Christman said. “I didn’t start shooting international skeet competitively until I was a junior in high school. I was rather old for not knowing what I was doing to begin with, so I had to make a lot of progress in order to get my in.”
If his championship victories are not proof enough of his abilities, Christman has earned his place on Team USA three times now. He first received a nomination for the team after winning the silver medal at the 2017 National Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs, CO. That same summer he medaled at the Junior Nationals and then made the Junior World Team. All three instances earned him a spot on Team USA.
“[Team USA] was one of the main things I wanted from the very beginning. Even in the beginning, I really wanted to be a part of a team to just have that sense of pride in your country. That meant a lot to me.”
While most members of Team USA live in different states, the camaraderie when the members shoot together is unlike anything else, Christman remarked. Team USA gives “the opportunity to go travel places and shoot tournaments in different places and experiences to help you grow as an athlete.”
Even as a college freshman, Christman manages to dedicate time for both Team USA and the Martin Methodist Clay Target team, as well as his studies. A nursing major, Christman is determined to be a specialist in the medical field. He’s maintained a 3.98 GPA. Christman says it’s a challenge at times, but time management is the key to balancing his extracurricular activities.
“That’s just Eli,” said Dylan Owens, a fellow competitor and friend.
Emma Williams, a fellow Martin Methodist and Team USA shooter, has seen firsthand how Christman has improved and dedicated himself to the sport.
“Eli has improved not only as an athlete, but a person as well since we began shooting together,” Williams said. “He is an outstanding shot and continues to improve and work on himself every day.”
Christman trains six days a week for multiple hours to prepare for his upcoming tournaments and makes sure he is the best shooter he can possibly be. Focusing on putting himself in a tournament mindset, Christman treats every practice as if he is in final shoot-offs, which have become the most important events of his tournaments.
“If you can make it into the top six [of a tournament], it's pretty much is up to the 60 targets in the finals. You have 60 targets to make it or break it, so that is what I am focusing on here lately.”
Christman will compete with the Junior Team this year in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.
“Tokyo 2020 is the goal,” Christman said.
Christman shoots a Krieghoff K-80, which he connected with immediately. Throughout the many guns he has shot during his career, Christman said the K-80 just clicked with him.
Fellow Martin Methodist and Team USA shooter Sydney Carson said that shooting with Christman has made her a better shooter in many ways. His sportsmanship on and off the range pushes her to improve herself.
“Eli is the kind of person who will always help you better yourself,” said Carson. “Whether it be in training, competition, school, or even just striving to be a better person, he is always setting a great example.”
Chad Whittenburg, head coach of the Martin Methodist Clay Target team, believes Christman will continue to succeed in the shooting sports no matter where he goes.
“The sky is the limit for this young man. He has the drive, the passion, the resources, the coaching and the environment to achieve any goal he sets. I have no doubt we will see him as an Olympian one day.”
Photos courtesy of USA Shooting