After winning the most gold medals since 1984, it is hard to think what USA Shooting could do for an encore as the London Olympic Games appear in the rearview mirror. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait the 1,437 days to Rio 2016 to find out as another historic moment in shooting sports history is already upon us with the start of the 2012 Paralympic Games kicking off on Wednesday.
For the first time ever, USA Shooting will be sending athletes to compete in the Paralympic Games after having formed a Paralympic division after the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
U.S. Team members Eric Hollen (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Sergeant First Class Josh Olson (USAMU/Spokane, Wash.) are among the 277 athletes selected to the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Team and will compete alongside 140 other Paralympic shooters when competition gets underway Thursday at the Royal Artillery Barracks.
Competing across 12 events the athletes are classified in two groups – SH1 for those who can support the weight of their firearm themselves and SH2, who use a shooting stand for support. Hollen and Sergeant First Class Olson will serve as the torchbearers for the establishment of disabled athlete’s participation in the shooting sports. Hollen will shoot pistol while Olson will compete in the rifle events.
Hollen, a former U.S. Army Ranger in the 2/75 Ranger Regiment, suffered a life-altering injury on his horse farm in Tennessee. It took Hollen awhile to gain his a new lease on life by seizing the opportunity to compete in the sport of shooting.
“I’ve been ready for four weeks, but I couldn’t do anything about it,” Hollen said. “This has been 10 years in the making and it’s an awesome opportunity to represent my country. I shoot with the best able-bodied athletes in the world at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and I have the opportunity to now go and win my matches and that’s what I’m setting out to do.”
Hollen will compete in the Men’s P1 10-meter Air Pistol event on Thursday, August 30 and will compete again one week later on September 6 in the 50-meter free Pistol competition. Currently ranked fifth in the World in Air Pistol, Hollen has demonstrated the ability to compete for a medal in London. He finished 14th at the 2010 IPC Shooting World Championships in this event.
At the IPC World Cup Sydney in 2011, he shot a 557/600 to tie three shooters and move on to the finals where he fired 98.1 points to secure a silver medal. Most recently, at an April IPC Shooting World Cup in Szczecin, Polan, Hollen finished fifth. Top competitors in the event include a pair of Russian sharp shooters in 2008 Paralympic gold and silver medalists Valeriy Ponomarenko and Sergey Malyshev along with current World Champion Sea Kyun Park. Ponomarenko holds the current world records in the event after shooting a 578 qualifying score and a 672.4 finals score at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
On the eve of the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games, Hollen has thought often about what this moment will mean to him:
“To me, the concept of wearing “USA” on my back means that I have found my way through the fear factor,” Hollen said previously. “I have found a new sense of self and I have leveled the playing field from Special Operations soldier to Paralympic athlete. I have eclipsed all previous expectations of who I wanted to be and created a new pinnacle that exceeded all previous achievements and I did it without the use of my legs. My worst case scenario has become a vehicle of opportunity that I could not have ever reached without the devastating loss that had to occur. The darkest moment did not last and I found the light at the end of the tunnel through academics and athletics.”
Hollen is the father of aspiring Junior Olympian Payten Hollen, a J-3 ski racer with Team Breckinridge and a day-use athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Click here to learn more about Eric Hollen.
Image courtesy USA Shooting