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Written by Sarah Nakata   
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 08:54

"Home on the Range"

My Junior Olympic Experience

By Sarah Nakata


I initially began shooting smallbore (22 caliber long rifle) in prone position during the fall of 2010 with the Marion County Junior Rifle program, where I learned that shooting was a sport I wanted to continue. But as the Indiana weather got cooler, I transitioned indoors to air rifle. This was really my first experience with 3-position rifle. This subsequently led to entry into multiple smallbore and air rifle competitions. One of these competitions was the qualification match for the National Junior Olympics (NJO), which were run in conjunction with USA shooting.

In order to qualify for the National Junior Olympics Championship, competitors shoot either the top score for their gender, or a minimum qualifying score with adjustment made for their age. The Junior Olympics shooting events consist of both 10 meter air rifle and 50 meter smallbore rifle. Smallbore consists of a "3X20" in which 20 record shots are recorded in each of three positions of 1) prone, 2) standing, and 3) kneeling. I particularly enjoy shooting smallbore since it is more often shot in three positions versus International Air Rifle, which is shot only from the standing position. I was fortunate to qualify for the NJO match, which was held in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in April of 2012.

I arrived in Colorado on a Thursday and arrived at the OTC range on Friday morning. However, before being allowed to shoot on the range, equipment is checked, to assure that all individuals shooting equipment meet the same specifications as though they were shooting in the Olympic Games. Some of the specifications that are tested include: rifle weight, coat/pant stiffness and thickness, and button overlap. After inspection it was determined that my shooting pants were too stiff and I was required to essentially wad and roll my shooting pants up a number of times in order to decrease the stiffness of the canvas (this process was in stark contrast to what my mother expects of me after she takes time to iron my pants). After a re-check I was off to the range.

My first day at the OTC consisted of a practice day. The facility consists of an upper and lower range each with air rifle and smallbore capabilities. It was very different from most ranges since air rifle is shot facing one direction at 10 meters and smallbore is rotated 90 degrees in order to accommodate the longer smallbore distance of 50 meters. The air rifle targets are on a pulley system, so the target is sent down to the 10 meter mark, shot, and then retrieved. I had never used this pulley system before, but it seemed to work well, although I definitely preferred the electronic MegaLink smallbore targeting system, which allows the user to obtain not only instantaneous scoring but also provides pinpoint shot placement. This gave me not only a more accurate reading, but made it so I did not have to use a spotting scope.

The air rifle matches occurred on Saturday and Sunday followed by the smallbore match on Monday and Tuesday. We had approximately 100 competitors in air rifle and 70 in smallbore. The Junior Olympics is often a "scouting match" and many of the coaches from NCAA college rifle teams attend. There were also a number of collegiate shooters who participated, although we did have shooters as young as twelve years of age.

While at the Olympic Training Center, I had the opportunity to stay in the dorms with many of my fellow competitors. I had a great time shooting, meeting other competitors and making new friends. Because there were 2-3 different relays for each competition, we were often only shooting for part of the day. This allowed competitors to spend time on the campus of the OTC, catch up on schoolwork, or go sightseeing. Typically my relay fell right in the middle of the day so I did not get to do a whole lot of sightseeing although I did have the chance to visit the Garden of the Gods. The rock structures and mountains were marvelous, especially since I've grown up in a very flat Indiana my entire life.

Many of us considered the cafeteria as a gathering point and quickly adapted to the tradition of eating frozen yogurt after shooting. The food at the OTC was very healthy and quite tasty. The chefs would cook dishes made to order in addition to their daily special.

During the match, I struggled most in air rifle to find my natural point of aim. Sadly, this happened on both days, so scores were not as high as I would have liked. The first day of smallbore was a little rough considering I had sub-consciously rushed the standing position in addition to having a target malfunction. Thankfully I was able to make correction in my positions and was able to finish the second day with a score a few points above average. Overall, I finished 56th in air rifle and 13th in smallbore.

I had a great time at the Olympic training center and it was really exciting to see all the other athletes from the various other Olympic disciplines. I hope to have the opportunity to compete in this championship again in the future.