West Virginia University rifle coach off to Olympics

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — 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 9-year-old.

That dream will become a reality this August when Hammond represents Great Britain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Interest

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 Hammond’s 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.

Coach

The next event that served as a catalyst for his Olympic aspirations was his hiring as head rifle coach at West Virginia University in 2006. After competing on the team as a standout from 2002-2004, he replaced longtime coach Marsha Beasley.

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.”

Best

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 wasn’t 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, just recently, Hammond was officially selected.

Relief

“It’s obviously really exciting. It’s a bit of a relief that the selection is finalized and I know I’m going,” Hammond said.

“The excitement is building and the realization that this is actually going to happen is there now.”

While some might think competing on the highest level of the sport might prove distracting for a coach and take away from his duties, Hammond said that in the case of rifle, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I think my coaching has helped my own shooting and my own ability has helped me with the athletes because I’m right there going through the same things they are,” Hammond said.

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