Army Marksmanship Unit shooter grabs last Olympic spot
FORT BENNING, Ga. — A U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Soldier locked down the final spot on the U.S. Olympic shooting team Monday with a dominating performance at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Pool International Range Complex.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker won the Men's Three-Position Rifle match, securing his fourth trip to the Olympic Games and the opportunity to settle some unfinished business.
"It's always an honor to represent the Army and your country at the Olympics," said Parker, a native of Omaha, Neb. "It's been a long four years working hard for another Olympics while fulfilling our mission here and I can't wait to get over there.
"Everybody goes to the Olympics to win a gold medal and I'm no different. That's the ultimate goal. But my expectations going over there are to compete hard, represent my country well and do my best and train my best leading up to it."
Parker came into the match fresh off a gold medal-winning performance in Italy last month, providing momentum prior to the Olympic Trials – a grueling three-day mental grind on even the most seasoned of shooters such as Parker. He shot a first day score of 1166 and followed that with an even better second day score of 1172 to distance himself from the rest of the pack.
"The toughest obstacle to overcome in Olympic Trials is obviously the pressure," Parker said. "You get out there and your heart is beating and you know you have the expectations that you are going to do well. You have been preparing the past four years and it all comes down to three days and you just want to do your very best those three days."
A slew of up-and-coming shooters pushed Parker to step us his game, including young USAMU shooter/instructors Spc. Joe Hall, Sgt. Joe Hein and Staff Sgt. George Norton. Hall and Hein made each day's final and Norton shook off a disappointing first day to post scores right next to Parker on day two. Hall finished second overall and said he can learn from getting beat by Parker.
"Every match is another learning experience," said Hall. "Shooting against the top competition and that extra pressure is what you need. I absolutely love being a part of this unit, a part of this team. Sgt. Parker has done this for so long and he knows how to control his nerves and win every match. I am still working on the whole aspect of knowing that I am now running with the Parkers of the world, and in order to get there I just have to get to that next level."
A torrential downpour on the last day of the trials tested the mettle of everyone involved, from the event organizers to the shooters. An abbreviated match that fell under the U.S. Olympic Committee's rules for Olympic Trials ensued and Parker slammed the door on any chance of last-day collapse by shooting well enough that it was mathematically impossible for anybody to catch him in the final. The smiling faces of his two young children and wife, Andrea, awaited Parker after the final round was shot and his ticket for the Olympics was stamped for a fourth time.
"Having my wife and kids out here the past few days has been a great inspiration," Parker said. "Getting into the finals and looking over and seeing my kids there with a smile on their face watching their dad is an awesome feeling and kind of relaxes me. I am looking forward to having them there in London with me."
Parker's win now puts seven USAMU Soldiers on Team USA. Joining Parker on the Olympic team are: Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft, rifle prone; Staff Sgt. Michael McPhail, rifle prone; Staff Sgt. Josh Richmond, double trap; Sgt. Glenn Eller, double trap; and Sgt. Vincent Hancock, Men's Skeet. Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson will compete in the Paralympics as the first active-duty Soldier to ever qualify for the Paralympics.
Three family members of USAMU Soldiers will also compete in London: Jamie Gray, wife of Staff Sgt. Henry Gray, women's air rifle and women's three-position rifle; Sandra Uptagrafft, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Uptagrafft, women's sport pistol; and Jonathan Hall, brother of Spc. Hall, men's air rifle.
The Olympic Games opening ceremonies are July 27 and will run through August 12. For a complete list of the U.S. shooting team, go to USAShooting.org. Follow the USAMU on Facebook for live updates from London.
(SOURCE: Ft. Benning U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit)