With the revival of the Olympics in 1896, Baron Pierre de Coubertin decided to incorporate five shooting events into the games. Today, the number of shooting events is 15. There were two years the Olympics didn’t include shooting events: the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis and the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. However, shooting was reintroduced in 1932 and has been part of the Olympics ever since. Air rifles (guns from which projectiles are propelled by compressed air) were first added to the lineup of shooting events in 1984. Currently, the United States holds 57 gold medals in Olympic shooting events, which is more than any other country.
Some American Firsts in Olympic Shooting
The most notable American athletes who participated in the shooting events during the 1896 Summer Olympics were the Paine brothers. John and Sumner Paine were descendants of a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the sons of a Civil War general. The two demonstrated their shooting prowess to 40,000 spectators crammed into Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium. The brothers went down in history as the first Americans to win gold medals for shooting events. Since then, Americans have been getting firsts for their country and setting new records.
The 1912 Olympics was a milestone event in the history of shooting sports for the United States. James R. Graham won America’s first gold medal for trap. He also helped to propel the American trap team to win a gold medal. During the same Olympics, Alfred P. Lane became the first American to win a gold medal in the 30-meter rapid-fire pistol event.
In 1976, Margaret Murdock was the first woman to win a medal in a shooting event. At the time, the men’s and women’s events were mixed.
Lones Wigger was the first American to win a gold medal in the 50-meter free rifle event during the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Launi Meili was the first American to win a gold medal in the women’s 50-meter free rifle event in 1992.
Matthew Dryke became the first American to win a gold medal in the skeet event in 1984. Since then, Vincent Hancock has dominated the event and set an Olympics record by winning three gold medals. Kim Rhode was the first American to win a gold medal in the women’s skeet event in 2012 in London and became the youngest female champion.
Pat Spurgin was the first person to win a gold medal in the women’s 10-meter air rifle event when it was introduced to the Olympic shooting games lineup in 1984.
Double Duty for Their Country
A number of American members of the U.S. military have competed over the years. Several have had distinguished careers in the Army or the Navy.
Willis A. Lee won a gold medal in 1920 during the 300-meter military rifle (prone) team event. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Lee participated in the occupation of Veracruz in 1914. He later fought against the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II. He received both the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal for his actions. Tragically, he died of a heart attack shortly after the Japanese surrender in 1945.
Charles B. Winder won a gold medal during the 300-meter military rifle team event during the 1908 Olympics. He enlisted in the Ohio National Guard in 1897 and served during the Spanish-American War. On top of his list of accomplishments, Winder became the first National Guardsman to be awarded a Reserve Military Aviator’s rating in 1912. During World War I, he served in the Army Ordnance Department.
USMC Sergeant Morris “Bud” Fisher competed at the 1920 and 1924 Olympics and won a total of five gold medals. His Marines Corps buddies joked that he won enough shooting medals “to sink a battleship.” During World War I, Fisher saw service in Europe. He retired as a gunnery sergeant in 1941 after more than 30 years’ service. However, he was recalled to active duty during World War II and placed in charge of the rifle range at Parris Island, South Carolina.
One of the greatest stories of perseverance by an American Olympic athlete involved Second Lieutenant Sidney R. Hinds. During the 1924 Olympics in Paris, a Belgian shooter leaned his rifle against a shooting bench during an argument with an official. The rifle fell over and discharged, striking four of Hinds’ toes. Despite this painful and debilitating wound, the American still competed. He shot a perfect score of 50 during the 300-meter rifle team event. Hinds went on to command a regiment in the 2nd Armored Division during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.
Olympic Shooting Games: Upholding an American Legacy
Americans have a long history of competing at the highest level in Olympic shooting events. The recent victories of Amber English, Vincent Hancock and William Shaner have contributed to upholding this legacy dating back more than 120 years.