By Brenda Rolin, USAMU PAO
Fort Benning, GA -(AmmoLand.com)- As the 2015 international shooting season comes to a close, the Army's international shooting teams are preparing for the 2016 Olympic trials and a chance to compete in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next summer.
Four members of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) International Pistol and Rifle Teams qualified at the 2015 Winter Airgun-Olympic Trials Dec. 3 to 6 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to compete in the final Olympic Trials for airgun in June.
Those Soldiers are Staff Sgt. George Norton, Albuquerque, New Mexico, in men's open air rifle; Sgt. 1st Class James Henderson, Pasadena, California, in men's open air pistol; Staff Sgt. Greg Markowski, Sycow, Poland, in men's open air pistol; and Spc. Daniel Lowe, Federal Way, Washington, in men's open air rifle.
“Athletes from around the nation assembled at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to try to qualify for the final air rifle/pistol Olympic selection match by finishing within the top 10 athletes in the United States,” said four-time Olympian Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker, the International Rifle and Pistol Teams coach. “The winning athletes will then compete in the final selection match in June where they have to be one of the top two athletes to qualify for the Olympic Team.”
USAMU soldiers will also be vying for seats in men's 50-meter rifle prone, men's and women's 50-meter rifle 3-position, men's and women's 10-meter air rifle, 25-meter rapid fire pistol and 50-meter pistol.
A different Olympic qualifying event for men's 50-meter rifle prone, men's and women's 50-meter rifle 3-position, 25-meter rapid fire pistol and 50-meter pistol, will be in spring 2016.
“All 50-meter and 25-meter events will be selected during the Olympic Selection Match from April 2-10 that will be hosted at Fort Benning,” he said. “Athletes will shoot each event three times, and the top two will qualify for the Olympic Team.”
Parker said USAMU Soldiers will compete in all rifle and pistol events, not just their best events, during the Olympic trials. He has predictions for both the Rifle and Pistol Team members.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail, who is ranked number one in the world in men's 50-meter rifle prone, already won his seat on the U.S. Olympic Team Sept. 3 during the 2015 ISSF World Cup Final in Munich, Sept. 1-7. He also won his third gold medal this year in the World Cup Finals.
“The goal was to make the Olympic Team,” McPhail said. “It's a lot of hard work.”
McPhail, of Darlington, Wisconsin, won two other back-to-back gold medals at the ISSF World Cup Fort Benning, Georgia, May 11-18 and the ISSF World Cup Munich, Germany, May 26 to June 2.
“Sergeant First Class McPhail has had a fantastic year,” said. Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker, International Rifle and Pistol Teams coach. “He has a great potential for medaling in the Olympic Games.”
McPhail said for anyone who wants to participate in the Olympics, the Army provides superior coaching, training, equipment and ammunition.
“For a kid who shoots and their goal is to make the Olympics, the Army Marksmanship Unit is the place to go,” he said.
With one seat already taken by McPhail for men's 50-meter rifle prone, two other USAMU Soldiers are Parker's top picks for the second and final seat. They are Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft, Phenix City, Alabama, and Staff Sgt. George Norton, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Sergeant First Class Uptagrafft is another top contender for making the United States Olympic Team,” Parker said. “In the past, he has won multiple world class medals, he has been to two Olympics already, and he is one of our top shooters. He will be trying to get that last spot in the prone, and I wouldn't count him out of anything.”
Parker said Norton made huge steps this year, becoming a major international competitor.
“In the past, he just missed the teams or was close, but this season he was really hungry to make the scores and win some major competitions,” he said. “He is making the teams and making a name for himself in international competition and getting that valuable experience it takes to make the Olympic Team.”
For the men's and women's 50-meter rifle 3-position event, Parker said the three top USAMU competitors are Norton, Spc. Daniel Lowe and Sgt. Erin McNeil.
“Lowe is going to be in there, and McNeil (for women's 50-meter rifle 3-positions event) will be close,” Parker said.
However, that doesn't preclude either Lowe or McNeil from making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, he said.
Lowe of Federal Way, Washington, has been spending most of his time in men's 10-meter air rifle, Parker said, and he is one of several people in air rifle who has a good chance of making the 2016 Olympic Team in June for airgun.
Parker said McNeil, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who won a silver medal in women's 50-meter rifle 3-position at the 2016 USA Shooting (USAS) National Championships for Rifle/Pistol June 24 to July 1, is a strong International Rifle Team competitor who has a chance at the one spot left for women's 3-position on the U.S. Olympic Team.
“(Sergeant McNeil) is probably the smartest shooter on the firing line,” he said. “She makes outstanding decisions. There is no reason why she can't be on top and take that one spot.”
Members of the International Pistol Team also made great strides this year winning medals and quotas in several events, and three USAMU pistol competitors are in the running for spots on the Olympic Team.
A former Service Pistol Team competitor for seven years, Henderson won a quota for the U.S. Olympic Team after placing fourth in men's 50-meter pistol during the 2015 ISSF Fort Benning World Cup May 18-24. He also won the silver medal for the men's 50-meter free pistol championship during the 2016 USAS National Championships for Rifle/Pistol June 24 to July 1.
Henderson, of Pasadena, California, also competed on both the International and Service Pistol Teams for three years before shooting full time on the International Pistol Team this past year.
“Sergeant First Class Henderson had a great year, and he is consistently placing in the top of the national championships,” Parker said. “He was a top Service Pistol Team shooter and there is no reason he cannot be on top in International Pistol as well.”
Staff Sgt. Brad Balsley is another pistol marksman who has had a good year, winning a gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games in in Toronto during the men's 25-meter rapid fire pistol event July 16. Prior to this, the Uniontown, Pennsylvania, native won a bronze medal in the same event during the 2015 USAS National Championships for Rifle/Pistol June 24 to July 1 at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“Staff Sergeant Balsley broke through at the Pan Am Games,” Parker said. “He shot a really good final against world-class competitors and came away with a gold medal and a quota spot.”
Staff Sgt. Greg Markowski also has a chance to compete on the Olympic Team, Parker said. Like, Henderson, Markowski, who is from Sycow, Poland, shot for both the International Pistol Team and the Service Pistol Team since his assignment to USAMU in 2009. Markowski has been shooting solely with the International Pistol Team for about a year.
“Staff Sergeant Markowski has consistently finished within the top five in all of this year's national competitions and continues to improve. I expect him to be competing for a spot on the Olympic team next year,” Parker said.
The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) wins national and international shooting competitions and advances small arms lethality to demonstrate Army marksmanship capability and enhance marksmanship effectiveness in combat.