Olympic gold medalist visits Keystone Shooting Park
DALMATIA - In a sport in which most of the world's best don't peak until their 30s, Vincent Hancock is a bit of a wunderkind.
Still only 24, Hancock is already a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion in skeet shooting and has his sights set on more titles.
But Hancock, who was at Keystone Shooting Park at Martz's Game Farm Thursday for a demonstration and clinic, has also already had his share of self-doubts and questioning.
Between winning a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics at 19, and defending his title at the 2012 London Games, Hancock almost quit the sport he has been competing in seriously since the age of 10.
A member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, based at Fort Benning, Ga., at the time, the pressures of world competition, military commitments and starting a family, all of which were happening at the time, were getting to him.
"It was such a dog and pony show for six months after the (2008) Olympics that I never had time to really enjoy it," Hancock said. "I won a world championship in 2009, but some things were going on in the military that I wasn't really happy about either."
But somewhere along the way, Hancock got his muse back in time for the 2012 Olympics, and winning gold again, coupled with completing his military hitch, seems to have given him a fresh outlook.
"I don't do as many of these (clinics with Olympic hopefuls) as I'd like to because of my competition schedule and my family, but I try to do one or two a month," Hancock said,
taking a break from giving tips to young and old shooters, who came from as far away as California and Texas to make use of the Keystone Shooting Park's state-of-the-art complex. "I want to try to pass on some of my expertise and what I've learned to others at this stage of my career."
Hancock hit the world shooting scene at the age of 16 in 2005, when he placed either first or second in several Wold Cup events and was named USA Shooting Male Athlete of the Year.
Then he had to make a tough decision, either to train full-time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado, or to join the army, which was recruiting him for its elite marksmanship unit. In the end, he said, it was a pretty easy decision.
"The Olympic training center has only produced three or four Olympic medalists, and the marksmanship unit has produced 24," Hancock said. "I wanted to be where I had the best chance to do that."
Happy to be out
Hancock's military hitch only wrapped up about six months ago, and he didn't waste time letting his hair hang down, growing a bushy beard which he only recently trimmed. While he was obviously happy with his time in the service, it was also apparent he was glad his time was done.
"I have some friends who are still there who aren't sure what's going to happen to them because of sequestration," he said. "I was glad to be getting out when I did."
Beretta USA, an arms and accessories manufacturer, is one of his prime sponsors, allowing him to travel the world to compete and teach.
"This is not a big money sport but I feel fortunate that I'm able to raise my family and bring my kids up because of it," he said.
Hancock and his wife, Rebekah, have two daughters, Bailey and Brenlyn.
Hancock considers himself a lucky young man but, as they say, luck is the residue of design. He is supremely confident in his ability and training.
"I always tell people that no one will train harder and want it more than me," he said. "Sometimes I remind myself that there may be someone training harder and that will just make me want it more."
He told another reporter that he'll sometimes shoot until he misses during a practice round, which can be long when he's having a good day.
Olympic skeet and trapshooting differs from American trapshooting, the kind done at the Pennsylvania State Shoot in Elysburg every summer, in difficulty.
"Most people in the U.S. do American, and there are tens of thousands of them," Hancock said. "I started that with my dad (Craig, who accompanied Hancock to help with the clinic). "But there are less than 100 people in the U.S. who do international."
Difference in shooting
The main differences in the styles are that international shooters cannot have the rifle or shotgun poised at their shoulder, ready to fire, but must bring it up from a position between their waist and chest, and the targets fly approximately 25 miles per hour. The targets are also smaller and harder to break.
Allen Chubb, president of Keystone Shooting Park, which opened in May 2011, said the park has been successful in doing what it was built for.
"We shot 250,000 targets here in the first 18 months," said Chubb, noting most of those were by either high performance shooting veterans, and/or Olympic and Junior Olympic hopefuls. There was a group of young shooters on hand from the Carlisle area on Thursday.
Thirteen competitions are scheduled for the facility, including an upcoming event which will pay a combined $21,000 to the top three finishers.
Chubb said the facility's sponsors are happy, and plans are under consideration for possibly expanding the park.