The year following the Olympic and Paralympic Games, is one of great transition and adjustment, but for three Olympic veterans, the newness of a quad and implementation of new rules only reinvigorated some of USA Shooting’s finest.  As a reward for their top performances, shotgun competitors Glenn Eller and Corey Cogdell are both being honored as USA Shooting’s 2013 Athletes of the Year while pistol shooter Emil Milev and Paralympic competitor John Joss are being recognized for performances in their respective event disciplines.

No rifle athletes or female pistol athlete met the point threshold required for nomination as discipline athlete of the year. However Michael McPhail (Darlington, Wis.) and Dempster Christenson (Sioux Falls, S.D.) nearly met the men’s rifle criteria as did Sarah Scherer (Woburn, Mass.) in women’s rifle.

Consideration for USA Shooting’s Athlete of the Year is based upon winning performances in major ISSF/IPC competition with emphasis on that year’s performance over several ISSF/IPC events to include World Cups, World Cup Finals, and the major ISSF/IPC Championship of the year (Pan American Games, Championships of the Americas, Olympic Games, or World Shooting Championships).

Glenn Eller:  Back On Top

Glenn Eller
Glenn Eller

In a year of transition, Sergeant Glenn Eller’s (Katy, Texas) season stands apart for its consistency, accomplishment and resurgence.  For it to stand out in a career full of dependability and achievement says even more.

Admittedly, there was lull in Eller’s game following that pinnacle moment in which he captured Olympic gold back in 2008. Since then, the results we came to expect from the four-time Olympian were intermittent at best.

A 14-time World Cup medalist, he had only earned one international medal (2011 World Championship bronze) since his Beijing performance.

The autumn equinox was particularly bountiful for Eller as he captured a world title and a world team title, earned top honors at Fall Selection and walked away a silver medalist at the World Cup Finals, all within a span of 35 days from Sept. 20 thru October 25.

In addition, he was the top finisher during the Spring Selection Match and finished fourth at the USA Shooting National Championships.  In addition to his World Champs and World Cup Finals success, he was the top qualifier during the World Cup Al Ain (UAE) while setting a world record by connecting on 146/150 targets while eventually finishing fifth.  He scored a 10th-place finish at the World Cup in Granada, Spain as well.

Earning his fourth World Championships medal and second world title overall in Lima, Peru, Eller became the fourth American in the sport of Shotgun to win four or more World Championship medals, joining Deena Julin (5), Francis Strodtman and Bret Erikson. Julin never won a world title in her career while Strodtman earned two and Erikson one. Eller is the 22nd American all-time to win four or more World Champs medals in the sport of shooting.

“After coming off of a bad Olympics, I didn’t know whether I wanted to switch events or not,” said Eller. “I contemplated shooting skeet this quad. The ISSF helped me make my decision by changing the rules in double trap. It’s like having a new game all over again.  I still have some things I can improve and I know the next few years will be more and more challenging as more shooters pick up the game. The scores will get higher and as they do, I will have to get better as well. It felt good to get back on the top of a podium this year and I want to continue to have that feeling this quad as we look towards Rio.”

Corey Cogdell:  Consistency Reigns

Corey Cogdell
Corey Cogdell

By her own expectations, 2013 was nothing extraordinary for Corey Cogdell (Eagle River, Alaska).  You don’t get to the top of the trap shooting world thinking a world record, a World Cup bronze medal and a couple silver-medal finishes in prime domestic competition equates to a stellar year.  Thing is, the year was good enough to distinguish her as USA Shooting’s top female shooter in 2013.

She began the year contemplating taking some time away from her gun after a grueling run at the 2012 Olympic Games that took its toll on her mindset.  Shooters fatigue had settled in.  But fatigue is fleeting for someone with the competitive drive like Cogdell.

“It was not hard for me to focus early on in the year as I had my eyes set on the Spain World Cup,” Cogdell acknowledged.  “Since I started shooting in International trap in 2006, I have always dreamed of going to Spain, so I set Spain as my goal for the year, to perform well there and come home with a medal.

Perfection was hers at the Granada World Cup when she sailed through the qualification round with a perfect 75/75.  But even that wasn’t good enough to secure victory after faltering in the finals somewhat to wind up with the bronze medal.

“After my success in Spain, I really felt like I had a break thru with my shooting. But as soon as you think you have this game figured out, it will come back and bite you in the butt. So, I had to refocus quickly for Nationals and the rest of the season. I struggled a little towards the end of the season, but still feel like I had a great season.”

She finished second at both the Fall Selection Match and the USA Shooting National Championships.   By the time she had reached World Championships, Fall Selection and World Cup Final, the results showed a girl in desperate need of another break.   She finished 19th, sixth and 12th at each of those three final stops.

As intensive a competitor as you’ll find in today’s game, the winter break will serve her well.  She’ll need that time to plan a summer 2014 wedding after her boyfriend Mitch Unrein proposed to her recently.  The two had been dating for the past two years after meeting at a charity function.  Unrein is a talented defensive lineman for the Denver Broncos and is one of 44 guys ever to have caught a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning.

“Not only is Mitch the love of my life, he is my best friend,” Cogdell admitted. “We share the same competitive drive and his support has helped me tremendously in the last few years. When you are an athlete, most of the time you have to be very self-centered to be successful.  We understand that about each other’s job and support that. But at the same time, I think we both have learned to focus more outside ourselves to make the other person happy and support them in their dreams.”

Emil Milev:  Still Going, Still Winning

Emil Milev
Emil Milev

Despite competing in a sport where age is often irrelevant, what Emil Milev (Temple Terrace, Fla.) accomplished in 2013 is impressive nonetheless.   Set to enter his 30th year as a competitive shooter,  the five-time Olympian and 1996 Olympic silver medalist, has proven there’s much more left in the tank.

He grabbed a bronze medal at the ISSF Granada World Cup while qualifying first and also earned ninth and 19th-place finishes in the other two World Cups.  His finish in Granada earned him an invite to his 13th World Cup Finals.

Shooting against the top-10 competitors in the world in this event, Milev qualified for the final in the sixth position by shooting a 575 in qualification. After the first competition stage of finals, Milev was tied for third with 10 hits. In the second competition stage however, Milev moved to the top of the pack shooting a 4-5-5-4 in the subsequent four, five-shot series. He later sealed his win with a perfect five hits on the final series. His win was just one hit behind the current world record.  Milev has now earned at least one World Cup Finals medal in each of the last three decades.

“Having the World Cup gives me strength to continue on the path to Rio, even though it is not easy to balance the life of an ordinary school teacher with the demands of a high level sport,” Milev said.

USA Shooting Hall of Famer Gary Anderson described it as the “best final I’ve ever seen!”

High praise for sure but something we’ve come to expect from Milev since he joined the USA Shooting Team in 2009, five years after relocating to the United States from his native Bulgaria.

Milev began shooting in 1984, practicing air pistol in Levski, one of the biggest sports clubs in Bulgaria. One year later he was introduced to rapid fire pistol and he was hooked.  He has been married to his wife, Anina, since 1991, and has two children, Alexa and Philip. He is a physical education teacher at B.T. Washington Elementary School in Tampa, Fla.  In 2010, Emil and his personal coach, (also Assistant National Pistol Coach) Vladimir Chichkov, established Pardini USA, LLC for sales, service and development of sports pistols and ammunition.

Asked how he’s found joy in shooting his entire career he says:

“I feel good with my Pardini in my hand – it has a relaxing, comforting effect on me. There is something empowering in shooting the center of the target – I’m in control, it is me and the pistol.  When winning, it is easy to feel joy. It’s a little harder with the other matches – when nothing goes as planned, when things go wrong and I’m not on the podium. I always look at these competitions as another lesson: there is always something useful to be learned at a competition, to help build me into a better shooter and a better person. Learn from the mistakes, and find the positive after every practice or match – that, I believe, is the key to being successful.”

Outside of that, the key to Milev’s success is the bond he has with Coach Chichkov who stirs the competitive fire and delivers the motivation for his prized pupil.

“He is the driving force – making me believe that ‘I can’ and ‘I will,’” admits Milev.  “He can make even the hardest drills fun and meaningful, and he can convince me to pick up the gun and train even after a long and tiring day. He is the one to repeat to me every day ‘Let’s go to the range, we have to practice.’ Vladimir is always thinking of nontraditional ways of practice. He believes in me probably more than I do, and it is so powerful to have a person like this next to you.”

John Joss:  Beginner’s Journey

John Joss
John Joss

In a true breakout year for USA Shooting’s Paralympic program, it was John Joss (Corsicana, Texas) who became the breakout star of the program in 2013. From two Paralympians in 2012, to now a full team of capable shooters, Joss’ ability to distinguish himself among his teammates was even more impressive.

Joss was a relative unknown to begin the year, but after winning several medals he has shown he’s capable of headlining a Paralympic rifle program ripe with new talent and with a future that seems bigger and brighter than ever.

Joss kicked the year off in Austria in January winning three medals in as many rifle events.  Joss is one of several new athletes in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit’s (USAMU) new Para division at Ft. Benning.  In May, Joss took the next huge step by winning a bronze medal at the IPC World Cup in Antalya, Turkey. At the biggest event of the year, the IPC World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand, Joss provided the highlight of the trip by winning the gold medal in the R3 Air Rifle Prone event.

As recently as the Dixie Double in Anniston, Ala., Joss fired a qualifying score likely to make finals at IPC World Cups in the R3 event.  In addition, Joss also earned two national titles during USA Shooting’s National Rifle & Pistol Championships.

The quick results are fueling Joss’ desire for greatness that much more. “I believe the results throughout this previous year have been just the tip of the iceberg,” he says.  “With my training and match scores climbing every day, the future looks very bright for me and I’ve got my eyes on the podium of Rio. Although far-fetched, I don’t believe it’s out of my reach.”

Joss credits the USAMU and USA Shooting for providing him with the opportunities he’s been given and the equipment and support he needs to be successful.  He believes that this network of support combined with his intense desire to win and his competitive nature is an unbeatable combination.

Training alongside some of the sport’s best marksmen is an added bonus and one that has Joss outperforming his experience.

“With multiple Olympians training in my close proximity, I’ve learned decades of knowledge in a short amount of time,” says Joss. My coaches set me on the right path with training so there is very little, if any, wasted training time. Headed by SFC Armando Ayalla, and Service Rifle Champion SFC Daniel Peters, we are surrounded by excellence.  I believe the balance of ARMY duties, responsibilities, and the daily regimented life adds an excellent structure to a shooter.”

Still, he’d be lying if he tells you he envisioned the success he found in 2013.

“I never thought I would gain such success so fast,” Joss admits.  “Especially when I first started, and it was such a struggle. But my first few performances fueled my desire to win. And with Matt Rawlings as my coach thereafter, we set a plan in training for success.”

Images courtesy USA Shooting

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