After an 82-day break, the second half of USA Shooting’s Olympic Trials for Airgun resumed here 24-25 February where six team slots, two each in men’s air rifle, women’s air rifle and men’s air pistol teams would be finalized for participation in this year’s London Games.
CPL Matthew Rawlings, 28, a member of the elite U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, who led all men after Trials Part I at CMP’s range in Anniston, Alabama, 3-4 December, ended up third and out of the running. Rawlings had accumulated 1297.2 points in Part I to Emmons’ 1295.6 and Hall’s 1293.3.
The trials format forced competitors to bring their “A” games to each phase of the event because there was absolutely no subjectivity involved in nominating members to the team. No coach favoritism or previous experience mattered when the trials began.
Faced with a “go hard or go home” challenge, the competitors emerged from the process, but nothing was official until very late in the second set of trials.
In men’s air rifle, a battle ensued for the two quota slots available as veteran Olympian, Matt Emmons, 30, of Browns Mills, New Jersey and first-time Olympian, Jonathan Hall, 24, of Carrollton, Georgia, both emerged bruised but unbroken.
In Alabama Emmons fired a qualification score of 595 and backed it up the next day with a 596. He shot his best final of the tournament on Day 1, a 104.6.
The best two finals of the trials, regardless of the day they were fired, were added to the four 60-shot qualification scores to determine the overall aggregate total. As in the Olympics and ISSF 10-meter air rifle, the matches were fired in the standing position.
Rawlings opened the first trial with a near-perfect 598 and his best final of 104.2, giving him an outstanding Day 1 total of 702.2. He backed it up with a strong 595 and marginal final of 101.8 on Day 2.
Hall left Alabama still contending in third place, chasing at-the-time second place Emmons by 2.3 points. He opened the Trials in Alabama with a 594 and improved to 596 on Day 2. Hall’s best final at CMP South was 103.3.
It was looking like the younger Hall might struggle with two veteran shooters leading the way heading into Camp Perry at the end of February. Emmons, a two-time Olympic medalist and veteran of the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Games, was not likely to fade.
Emmons and Rawlings tied each other with their lowest qualification scores of the four-day event at 592 and opened the door to Hall, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively. Hall placed second with a 594 and a 103.4 in the final, bowing to Day 4 winner Bryant Wallizer placed fourth in the Trials with 2577 points. Wallizer fired a 593 qualification score followed by a scorching 104.9 final. Day 4 totals were: Wallizer-697.9, Hall-697.4, Emmons-696.1 and Rawlings-691.5.
Rawlings is a member of the elite USAMU, and had a head of steam coming out of Trials Part I. Rawlings’ air rifle career includes medals in the Pan American Games, U.S. National Championships, two NCAA Championships and three World Cup top-five placements. He was the first American to shoot 600 points in a men’s 10-meter air rifle competition.
Hall, a senior business management senior at Columbus State University, Georgia, finished third in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Airgun and is elated to have earned a nomination to the team this year. No stranger to men’s air rifle, he won the 2010 NCAA individual championship in record fashion. His 699.9 was the highest individual score ever fired in the NCAA Rifle Championships. He also earned a silver medal in the 2011 Pan American Games.
Day 3 was more of the same consistently high scoring by Emmons and Rawlings, who each fired 596. Emmons’ 102.9 final was his lowest and inconsequential. Rawlings fired his second best final on Day 3, a 103.2. Hall finished third with a 593 and his lowest final of 101.9.
On Day 4, all three shooters’ first 20 shots were strong, but as pressure began to mount, mistakes began to happen.
“I thought I was having a bad day,” Hall said afterward. “But when I saw Emmons take a break and Rawlings put his rifle down, I said to myself, ‘maybe I’m not having such a bad day after all,’” he said.
What Hall witnessed was a very strong performance by Rawlings slowly winding down as the Day 4 match wore on. Rawlings had dropped only one point through his first 36 shots – a remarkable string. But he dropped seven more points in his final 24 shots, and his worst final of the four days of competition offered no consolation.
In the end Hall would drop six points total in Day 4 qualifying, but he sailed only one “9” in his last 29 shots. Meanwhile, he watched Emmons break down his position, stretch and adjust his rifle’s buttstock after dropping two consecutive points just past the halfway mark. Emmons seemed to regroup but he still dropped another four points in his final 22 shots.
“I’m happy to earn another nomination to the team and shoot another event at the Olympics,” said Emmons. “At the same time, I know the scores that I shot throughout Trials are not going to be competitive at the Games and I know what I need to do to get there.”
In total scoring for the Trials, Emmons tallied an aggregate score of 2587.9, Hall totaled 2586.7 and Rawlings finished third with 2585.4.
“It’s a relief and an exciting moment,” Hall told USA Shooting’s Katie Yergensen afterward. I’ve been working towards this my whole life—it’s been my main goal.
“It’s weird to go from a very stressful situation to one of extreme relief and comfort. This is just the next step on the staircase and I’m not on the floor that I want to be at—London’s next,” Hall said.
“The Trials are always a very dramatic event in the quad,” said National Rifle Coach Major Dave Johnson. “The top men and women fought it out until the very end and unfortunately we can only take two in each air rifle event. Our nominees are very strong and we have time to work on final preparations between now and the Olympic Games and I think we will compete very well there.”