At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, held in the summer of 2021 due to the pandemic, U.S. shooters were on fire—securing three gold medals, two silvers and one bronze in Team USA’s best Olympic shooting performance since the 1964 Games, which were also hosted by Tokyo.
Our squad included a mix of past Olympians and previous medalists, along with a talented cohort of athletes representing the next generation of marksmanship talent in the United States.
USA Shooting athletes competed internationally to earn Olympic quotas from a pool of 300 available for the Tokyo Games. Quota spots are awarded to individual countries, who then determine the final makeup of their teams. Tokyo Olympic shooting hopefuls qualified for the team by competing at several matches hosted by USA Shooting. While the qualification process was extended because of difficulties resulting from COVID-19, plus a last-minute addition to the team, USA Shooting announced the complete Tokyo 2020 squad in June 2021.
Nineteen U.S. athletes began to arrive in Japan on July 24. Rifle and pistol shooters came first with the shotgunners following a few days later. With COVID-19 safety protocols in place for all travelers, the arrival procedures for athletes at the Tokyo airport were lengthy, but not unbearable.
The current Olympic shooting program has 15 events, six for men, six for women, plus three mixed-team shoots that debuted this year. The Tokyo 2020 Games were held at the Asaka Shooting Range, located on the base of the Japanese Self Defense Forces’ Camp Asaka outside Tokyo. The range was constructed to host shooters for the 1964 Olympic Games.
Three U.S. gold medalists set Olympic records in their respective disciplines in Tokyo.
The first gold medal for USA Shooting this year came from Will Shaner on July 25 in the men’s 10-meter air rifle event. A rifle standout at the University of Kentucky, Shaner is an NRA All-American, and as a freshman he was named NCAA Rookie of the Year. After qualification, Shaner placed third, just behind U.S. teammate Lucas Kozeniesky. In the final, after the second series, Shaner never relinquished his lead, triumphing over silver medalist Sheng Lihao of China, 251.6 to 250.9. Along with his record-setting final score, Shaner’s win marked the first Olympic gold for Americans in men’s air rifle. And at age 20, he’s also the second-youngest shooter to take home the gold in this event.
In the women’s skeet qualification rounds, 1LT Amber English of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit shot 121 of 125 targets, placing her third going into the final on July 26. The No. 1-ranked women’s skeet athlete in the world, English went 56 for 60 in the final to take the gold by one bird over the Rio 2016 Olympic gold medalist, Italy’s Diana Bacosi. English and Bacosi were even in the first five series, both hitting 47 of 50 targets. In the last series, Bacosi missed her third bird, while English aced her final 10 attempts for the gold. Not only is English the second U.S. shooter to ever win the women’s skeet event at the Games, her score in the final set a new Olympic record.
About an hour after English’s win, Vincent Hancock won the gold medal in men’s skeet, his third gold medal since 2008. Competing in his fourth Olympics for Team USA, Hancock already won golds in this event in Beijing and London. His performance in the qualifiers was outstanding with only three misses. Hancock followed that up with a near-perfect 59 out of 60 targets in the final to take the gold—setting Olympic records with his score and for the athlete with the most skeet wins. He closed with 34 straight hits in the final to beat Jesper Hansen of Denmark.
Kayle Browning earned a silver medal for the U.S. in women’s trap on July 29. She fought hard to jump from ninth place to fifth during the women’s trap qualifier. In the final, she missed three out of her four first shots, then regained her composure and rattled off 19 consecutive targets to take the silver medal. Browning took an early lead but would have to settle for runner-up to Zuzana Rehak Stefecekova of Slovakia, 43-42, narrowly missing the gold medal by a single target.
Mixed Team Success
A silver medal went to Team USA in the new Olympic mixed team air rifle 10-meter event. Teams of two shooters from each country, one male and one female, shoot simultaneously through two qualifying rounds and two medal matches, one for the bronze and one for the gold. The final on July 27 saw USA Shooting’s Mary Tucker and Lucas Kozienisky both take the silver medal after a thrilling match against Chinese shooters Yang Qian and Yang Haoran, who won the gold 17-13.
Tucker and Kozeniesky were down 1.7 points to Qian and Haoran after the qualification matches. In the final, China secured an early 4-2 lead over Team USA, but strong shooting from Tucker and Kozeniesky put them in the lead 7-5. China took a time out and Team USA continued to widen the gap with a 9-5 lead. Next, China came back to tie the U.S. shooters at 11 after the first 16 visits to the firing line. Although Tucker and Kozeniesky pulled within two points to raise the possibility of a winner-take-all final shot, in the next round they shot 19.8, which was not enough to take down their opponents.
Team USA scored its final Tokyo 2020 Olympic medal on July 31, when the duo of Madelynn Bernau and Brian Burrows took the bronze in the mixed team trap event. In the final, Bernau and Burrows secured an early 18-17 lead over Slovakia after 20 shots. Bernau went on to miss three of her next five targets, allowing Slovakia to secure the lead. When Team Slovakia’s Zuzana Stefecekova, the gold medal-winner in the individual event, missed three of her last five targets, that left Slovakia with a score of 42. Stefecekova missed again in the shoot-off, and Bernau faltered in her first attempt but later took advantage of her second shot, which was successful and gave the U.S. shooters the mixed team trap bronze medal.
Bernau hit 19 of 25 targets, while teammate Burrows, who was 12th in the men’s trap event, had 23 in the final.
While the ink is barely dry for the results of the Tokyo 2020 Games, the Paris 2024 Olympics are not far off. And USA Shooting athletes are keen to continue their success after a stellar performance in Japan. Competition results are the best way to gauge the current talent. Last month, Tokyo 2020 Olympic teammates Amber English and Phillip Jungman took top honors at the 2021 National Shotgun Skeet Championship finals at Hillsdale College. Another Tokyo 2020 Olympian, Derrick Mein, did not medal this year (trap), but is a standout shotgun shooter of whom we should all be proud. The defending national champion in sporting clays, Mein won the National Shotgun Trap Championship (also at Hillsdale), and is a competitor to watch on the road to Paris 2024.
With our victories at the Tokyo 2020 Games, the United States once again showed its supremacy in marksmanship on the world stage. As we look towards Paris 2024, be sure to follow Shooting Sports USA for all the latest Olympic shooting news.
All photos by USA Shooting unless otherwise indicated.
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