West Virginia University rifle coach Jon Hammond will be the first to tell you that he has dreamed of competing in the Olympics since the first time he picked up a rifle as a nine-year-old.
That dream will become a reality this August when Hammond represents Great Britain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
A native of Aberdeen, Scotland, Hammond sampled a variety of sports as a kid. Despite not being exceptionally gifted as a shooter early on, there was something about the sport that excited him and sparked a greater interest.
It was a gradual thing. I was never the best kid when I started, Hammond said.It was just a slow progression all the way through. I was never really a hunter or a big gun person but something about the sport took hold of me. You compete against yourself and there is a lot of room for improvement.
Steady improvement has been the hallmark of Hammonds career as a shooter. In 1998, he won the World Junior Championships at the age of 17 and it was then that the Olympic dream first seemed very real and attainable.
The next event that served as a catalyst for his Olympic aspirations was his hiring as head rifle coach at WVU in 2006. After competing on the team as a standout from 2002-04, he replaced longtime coach Marsha Beasley with aspirations to rebuild the tradition of greatness established by the program through the years.
In addition to providing a great coaching opportunity, the job also allowed him to train and get back into competitive shooting himself. He began to train with the goal of making the 2012 Olympics in London.
When I got the job here, I knew that I was going to be able to start competing again so that was a huge draw for me. That was an exciting part of it in addition to the opportunity to take over a program with a winning tradition,Hammond said.Even 12 months ago I had no expectations to be going this year to China. Hopefully the experience will put me in a good position for London in 2012.
His goal was accomplished four years ahead of schedule when he was selected to represent Great Britain last summer in the European Championships in Grenada, Spain. There he shot a personal best 597/600 in Mens 50-meter Prone. His fourth-place finish earned him the coveted Quota Place for the 2008 Games.
While earning the Quota Place made him the odds-on favorite to be selected as the lone shooter representing Great Britain in Beijing, it wasnt a guarantee. If he had faltered over the next year in international competition the governing body was within their rights to award the Olympic spot to another shooter. Finally, last week, Hammond was officially selected.
Its obviously really exciting. Its a bit of a relief that the selection is finalized and I know Im going,Hammond said.The excitement is building and the realization that this is actually going to happen is there now.
While Hammond won the Quota Place in the 50-meter Prone, the fact that he is Great Britains only Olympic qualifier in mens rifle will allow him to compete in two additional events: the 60-shot air rifle match and the 3P.
Having recently returned to Morgantown from World Cup competition in Munich and Milan, Hammond has a busy training schedule leading up to the Olympics in August.
Ill have three weeks here in town and then Ill go down to Georgia for a bit of training and then also shoot in the USA Nationals,Hammond said.When Im in town Im training most days. I come into the range for a good three hours or so. Sometime in July Ill head back home for a few final preparations.
Those preparations in Great Britain will include training with national coaches and trying to acclimate himself to what Olympic competition will be like.
Ive got a detailed training plan with coaches at home. All the training days are built in there as well as a few competition days so its going to be pretty busy,Hammond said.I have been preparing and I feel like Ill know what to expect out there but I also realize that a lot of things will be different. Its just so much different than a regular international match.
While some might think that competing on the highest level of the sport might prove distracting for a coach and take away from his duties Hammond says that in the case of rifle, that couldnt be further from the truth. Former rifle coach Ed Etzel got great mileage out of his gold medal performance at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles for the Mountaineer program.
I think my coaching has helped my own shooting and my own ability has helped me with the athletes because Im right there going through the same things they are,Hammond said.
As the reality sets in that he will compete for Great Britain in August, Hammond also proudly states that he will go to Beijing as a representative for his rifle program as well asWVU.
Its great publicity. When I travel around and talk to coaches of other international teams and shooters the conversation almost always turns to what Im doing,Hammond said.There has always been a great deal of interest about the team and West Virginia. There are a lot of interested people throughout Europe. Its just a great thing for recruiting and Im happy to be representing this school.