- Owen Perkins
- Amanda Trujillo of Brush, Colorado, and gold medal winner Terim Richards
Even the sport's caretakers admit that preliminary rounds of competition are about as exciting as "watching paint dry." In the case of the ongoing National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships, however, some of that drying paint can turn out to be a masterpiece.
Despite its rap as a taxing sport for spectators, shooting is one of the most popular Olympic sports, attracting more participating countries than all but two other sports. Over the past two weeks, scores of Olympic hopefuls have descended on Colorado Springs for the annual Junior Olympics, with gold medals, a shot at the national development team, and the chance to fix the Sydney games in the crosshairs all at stake.
The preliminary matches are a challenge for spectators. In the women's air rifle competition, for example, approximately 15 women, ages 14 to 19, compete side-by-side, shooting 40 pellets at 40 targets ten meters away, setting their own pace over the course of an hour and 15 minutes. The bullseye is about the size of a period, and a winning score means hitting the bullseye 97 percent of the time. Unless you can spot a period at ten meters, it's nearly impossible to follow the results.
With nearly two minutes allowed per shot, the event is a sustained period of intensely focused concentration. Shooting attire consists of tight, restrictive clothing designed to nearly immobilize the body, reducing unwanted movement, and eliminating the interference of even a faint pulse on a steady hand pulling the trigger on a 12-pound rifle. Once the shooters have found a comfortable stance, they hardly move for the rest of the event, not even shifting their weight when their feet fall asleep.
That's the drying paint part. Of the 66 young women competing last week, eight survived the preliminary rounds to advance to one of the most exciting finals showdowns anyone can remember. The world of riflery opens up in the finals, where all competitors shoot ten shots, one at a time, with results and updated standings announced after each shot. Going into the finals, the margin between the first and second place shooter's accuracy index was just over .001. That's when the ultra fine brushes come out.
Amanda Trujillo from Brush, Colorado, and Terim Richards, the eventual gold medal winner from Louisville, Nebraska, were among the finalists. They are teammates at the University of Nebraska, where Trujillo is a first-year student and Richards is a sophomore, both studying nursing. Richards began shooting air rifles a year and a half ago. Trujillo started at age nine.
"There's pistol clubs in Morgan County, for older men mostly; some women get into it but it's not a real big thing," Trujillo said of the limited opportunities in her northeastern Colorado town. Nonetheless, her community pulled together to fund her trip to the '96 Olympic qualifying match in Wolf Creek, Atlanta.
Richards found even more difficulty in high school, where the school refused to sponsor the unofficial team. "The school is totally against it basically," Richards explained, and Trujillo added the reason: "Kids with guns." Efforts to get the shotgun team sponsored by the school were thwarted when a member of the team pulled an unrelated pistol on another student. As Richards recalled, "That kind of shot the chances down the tube real quick."
Even a pair of gold medals hasn't been enough to grant Trujillo the respect other athletes of her caliber would get. She won first place at the Junior Olympics in air rifle in '96 and smallbore in '97, but was told by the Rocky Mountain News that they "didn't want to print anything with kids doing anything good with rifles, with guns.
"It's a sport, we're athletes," Trujillo continued. "We're not out hurting people; we're not out to be aggressive to other people. We're athletes like anybody else."
Maintaining their competitive edge means at least 20 hours a week practicing, weight training for balance, and aerobic training to lower their heart rate. When away from the school facilities, they practice in their basements. They're interested in riflery purely for the competition, and neither sees themselves as a hunter. "I've never shot anything and I don't think that I could," confided Richards, and Trujillo echoed her sentiments, revealing that "I don't think I'd find any enjoyment in it."
In a sport that has boasted national champions anywhere from age 16 to 60, both Richards and Trujillo hope to compete at least through 2004. Nevertheless, riflery does not promise the lucrative future of other amateur sports -- "You're going to be in the poor house," Richards admitted. For now, however, they're content to tackle their unique brand of alchemy, turning a sure eye, a steady trigger finger and an air-powered pellet into pure gold. p
National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships
U.S. Olympic Training Center
Men's Air Rifle Finals: Thursday, March 2, 1 p.m.
Men's Smallbore Finals: Saturday, March 4, 5:30 p.m.
All events are free and open to the public. Call 578-4670 for information.