By Tim HippsAugust 12, 2008
BEIJING (Army News Service, Aug. 12, 2008) - It rained on what might have been four-time Olympian Bret Erickson's final appearance on the world's grandest shotgun shooting stage, literally and figuratively.
Former U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit retired Sgt. 1st Class Erickson competed in the Barcelona, Atlanta and Athens Olympic games, but finished in a four-way tie for 21st place in the trap event in Beijing Aug. 10.
"This year, truthfully, I absolutely 100 percent believed was my year," said Erickson, 47, a native of Bennington, Neb., who lives in Muenster, Texas. "I was ahead of schedule all year long. I was going into World Cup events with the goal of just making the finals, and not only made the finals, but won a (World Cup) bronze here in April and a silver in Germany last month.
"I was really on top of my game - haven't felt this good in 10 or 15 years."
Erickson, however, performed poorly on the Beijing Shooting Range on Saturday and stood 33rd among 35 competitors entering Sunday's second qualification round. The constant rain, therefore, only dampened his spirits.
"It's very disappointing because I'm shooting as good as I've ever shot," he said. "I'm ranked third in the world and I was a serious medal contender.
"To go out there and just lose it in one day, that's the Olympics. You wait four years and hope it's your day. Unfortunately, it wasn't. I ran into some problems with my game and just didn't have time to fix them."
Czech Republic's David Kostelecky won the gold medal by posting an Olympic final record with 25 perfect shots and a total score of 146. Italy's Giovanni Pellielo, who missed two shots in the final, won his second consecutive Olympic silver medal with a 143 total.
Russia's Alexey Alipov claimed the bronze medal by prevailing in a shoot-off against two-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Diamond of Australia.
U.S. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Dominic Grazioli of Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio was Team USA's other competitor in the event. He finished tied with Erickson with a five-round score of 113, eight points behind the leading finalists.
Erickson temporarily retired from competitive shooting in 1999, but after taking two years off, he "started this whole crazy thing again."
Bothered most of the year by shoulder soreness, Erickson said he soon will undergo surgery, take some time off to recover, then decide if he wants to make a run at the 2012 Olympics in London. He currently stays "as busy as I want to be" running the Willawalla Creek Shooting Center, where he coaches young shotgun shooters.
"In conjunction with USA Shooting, I'm trying to develop some more junior camps," said Erickson, who retired from the Army in 2005. "We've got to fill the gap. We've got to bring somebody up to replace us old guys."
Erickson suffered a heart attack during a two-mile run at Fort Benning, Ga., just four weeks before the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where he bounced back to finish 13th in both trap and double trap, his finest Olympic performance.
Then USAMU teammates Staff Sgt. Mark Weeks, a certified emergency medical technician, and Staff Sgt. William Keever, an Olympic skeet shooter in 2000, saved Erickson's life when he collapsed that day in Georgia.
Weeks will take Team USA's reins from four-time U.S. Olympic shotgun coach Air Force Chief Master Sgt. (ret.) Lloyd Woodhouse who on Sept. 1. He may not let Erickson ride off into the Texas sunset just yet.
"I seriously made up my mind that this was it," Erickson said. "But the new coach... you could see inside that he was OK with me shooting badly here. So I asked him what he was so happy about, and he said, 'You can't quit like this. You're going to be back.'"
"And I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Oh, yeah, you are.'"
"He's the same guy who CPR'd me and brought me back to life, so it's kind of handy to have him around."
Likewise, Erickson has been a handy shotgun shooter to have around.
"I've been to China four times, but only twice to this range," said Erickson, a six-time U.S. national champion. "Yesterday is getting foggy, let alone 10 or 15 years ago. I've been doing this so long they all run together after awhile, but this place is beautiful. This is a state-of-the art range and the (Olympic athletes') village is fantastic. I would put the village probably second to Barcelona, and that's only because in Barcelona you're right on the Mediterranean.
"Here in Beijing, the service, the smiles, and the friendly people have been just unbelievable. It's been a great experience. I wish I could go home with a medal, but as I said three times prior, maybe next time."
Somewhat like quarterback Brett Favre, Erickson refuses to fully commit to retirement.
"We'll have to talk with him," he said while gesturing toward Weeks. "He's trying to keep me around. He's saying, 'I'm going to take over the coaching job and lose all my veterans. Come on, guys, give me a break. Throw me a bone.'
"So I don't know. I'll be off next year, for sure. I've got to get my shoulder done. I've got to go under the knife. Then in a couple years, we'll see."
(Tim Hipps writes for FMWRC Public Affairs.)