Virginia “Ginny” Thrasher, the owner of a new, shiny gold medal and a high-powered German-made weapon that could be mistaken for a prop from a science fiction movie. She came into the Olympic games ranked No. 23 in the world, and has written an underdog story for herself not soon forgotten.
The 19-year-old Springfield native took home the first gold medal of the Rio Olympic games, winning the women’s 10-meter air rifle competition Saturday morning in surprising fashion.
Four years ago, Thrasher was still new to shooting. She began hitting the range the same month as the London Olympics. “I remember watching the Games,” she said, “and watching the men’s air rifle event and not even knowing the rules or how it works. I’m very thankful to be able to be here 4 years later.”
Thrasher, a name now well-known and equally feared in air rifle competition, set an Olympic record with her score of 208.0 in the final, topping two Chinese shooters – Du Li and Yi Siling – who have won six Olympic medals between them.
Just a couple months removed from her freshman year at West Virginia, Thrasher says, “This is beyond my wildest dreams.” She grew up fantasizing of making the Olympics, but not as a shooter. The idea of yielding a gun and taking dead aim at a target nearly 33 feet away was completely foreign. Thrasher had always dreamed of being a figure skater, dancing and twirling to music, something she competed in through high school.
It wasn’t until barely 4 years ago after begging her grandfather to take her hunting that she found her niche. She went through gun-safety training, learned to shoot from her father, who’s retired from the Air Force, and when Thrasher bagged her first white-tailed deer, she was hooked.
Soon after, she joined the air rifle team at West Springfield High, before later enrolling at West Virginia, a shooting powerhouse that has won the past four NCAA championships. As a freshman last season, Thrasher won both the individual small-bore and air rifle titles, vaulting her onto the Olympic radar.
Despite her lack of experience, Thrasher woke up with confidence Saturday morning and was eager to take her black Feinwerkbau 700 air rifle to the range. Staring down the target, she posted just the sixth-best score in the morning qualifying round.
When the eight best shooters returned to the competition field for the finals, no one stood a chance. Thrasher opened the finals with a bull’s-eye that yielded a perfect score of 10.9, setting the bar high for the rest of the field. She cruised to victory, topping Du by a full point and winning by a final tally of 208-207.
Thrasher has a shot at one more medal later this week, competing in the 50-meter rifle three positions event Thursday. And then she’ll board a flight home – a new gold medal included with her carry-on luggage – to begin her sophomore year at West Virginia, where she’s an engineer major. “I get home 20 hours before the first class,” Thrasher said. “So I’ll be in physics at 8:30 a.m.”
She still has 3 more years remaining in her college career, and hopes of at least a couple more Olympic appearances. It’s safe to say, however, the days of her showing up as an underdog are over, and future competitors sights will now be set on her, metaphorically of course.