Three Soldiers from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit International Rifle Team qualified to represent the United States in rifle events at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile October 20 - November 26.
A huge factor of the Pan American Games, is that they will be the next opportunity for the United States to earn quotas in shooting events for the 2024 Olympic Games. Olympic Quotas are the allocation system for the Olympic Games that limit each country to only two athletes per event. So as the Paris Games get closer, the opportunity to earn Olympic Quota, aka tickets to the Olympics, is critical.
Currently, in the events that the USAMU International Rifle Team competes in, the United States has already earned the maximum Olympic Quotas both Women’s 10m Air Rifle and Women’s 50m Three-Position Rifle/Smallbore. On the men’s side, there is one outstanding quota in each of those events.
However, to even compete at the Pan Am Games, the athletes first had to be selected.
The Fort Moore, Georgia Soldiers earned their tickets to the Pan Am Games by competing in USA Shooting’s Pan American Selection Match in Colorado Springs, Colorado July 5-11.
On July 8, after two days of qualification relays, Sergeants Sagen Maddalena and Alison Weisz both shot their way into the top eight marksmen, earning them the opportunity to compete in the Women’s 10m Air Rifle Final. Maddalena, a Groveland, California native, won the Silver Medal with an aggregate score of 1269.4. Weisz, a Belgrade, Montana native, took the Bronze Medal with an aggregate score of 1264.9. The two USAMU Soldiers placed behind civilian athlete Mary Tucker, who won the Gold Medal.
With those Selection Match placements, the three 2020 Olympians (Tucker, Maddalena and Weisz), will all represent the Nation in Women’s 10m Air Rifle at the upcoming Pan Am Games.
Maddalena’s Silver Medal finish also allows the U.S. Army Soldier to compete in the Mixed 10m Air Rifle event as well. Tucker will do that same.
Weisz and Tucker both already earned Olympic Quotas in Women’s 10m Air Rifle (at the World Championships and the Championships of the Americas), so the United States cannot earn more during the Pan American Games. Nonetheless, the three Olympians will still fiercely compete for Pan American Medals.
On the Men’s 10m Air Rifle side, Sgt. Ivan Roe won the Gold Medal with an aggregate score of 1266.8, beating out civilian athletes Rylan Kissell and Gavin Barnick. USAMU teammate, Sgt. Tim Sherry placed fourth, just off the podium.
Since Roe, a Bozeman, Montana native, already earned an Olympic Quota (in Men’s 50m Three-Position Rifle) at the Championships of the Americas, he is ineligible to earn another. This Olympic rule then moved the opportunity down to the fourth place finisher, meaning Sherry, an Evergreen, Colorado native, would represent the Nation in Men’s 10m Air Rifle along with Kissell and Barnick.
USAMU’s Sgt. Brandon Muske, a Brenham, Texas native, already earned the United States a ticket to the Olympics in Men’s 10m Air Rifle by winning the Gold Medal at the Championships of the Americas, so that leaves one Olympic Quota in the event open for Sherry, Kissell and Barnick to vie for.
When it came to the 50m Three-Position Rifle/Smallbore event, Maddalena and Sherry both seized the Gold Medals and the selection to the U.S. Pan Am Smallbore Team with their aggregate scores of 1187.5 and 1186, respectively. The two U.S. Soldiers will compete alongside civilian athletes Tucker and Lucas Kozeniesky, who both earned the Silver Medals in the Selection Match for the event.
Weisz took the Bronze in Smallbore with a score of 1181.5, but will not compete in this event at the Pan American Games since only two athletes were allowed. This fact did not upset Weisz though because she looks at each match as an opportunity to learn or adjust.
“At this specific match I was able to test out some positional things that I have been working on in training, as well as mental trainings that I’ve discussed with my Sports Psychologist,” said Weisz.
So earning the Bronze Medal in Smallbore was an exciting accomplishment for the Fort Moore Soldier.
“Although I didn’t necessarily make the Three-Position Team for this Pan Ams, I had a personal best [score] and was able to see the work I’ve been putting in with my secondary event.”
Since Maddalena and Katie Zaun already won the Nation Olympic Quotas in the Women’s 50m Three-Position Rifle/Smallbore event (at the World Championships and the Championships of the Americas), the U.S. women will just compete for medals at the Pan American Games. However, since there is still one outstanding men’s quota in the event, it will be up to Sherry and Kozeniesky to win that last Olympic ticket for the United States.
Outside of Olympic Quotas, the Pan American Games are also unique in the fact that they are set up very similarly to the Olympics, said Weisz, who not only competed at the Pan American Games in 2019 but claimed a Gold Medal (10m Air Rifle).
“It’s a multi-sport event, so we will see athletes from Team USA and other national in various sports other than shooting.” Whereas when the shooting sports athletes compete at World Cups and World Championships, they are broken down into just the shooting sports and sometimes just one or two shooting disciplines.
Competing at the Pan American Games also means the athletes get to participate in the Opening Ceremony, said Sherry, who also won a Gold Medal (50m Three-Position Rifle/Smallbore) at the 2019 Pan American Games.
“This match is unique because we arrive a little early for the Opening Ceremony and stay in a village, much like the Olympic Games. That’s different from our normal international matches, where we’re arriving just before the competition and staying in a hotel.”
The athlete village makes the conditions very close to the Olympic Games, so that experience is about the closest to the Olympic Games as an athlete can get, explained Weisz who also competed in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo (placing 14th in Women’s 10m Air Rifle and 6th in 10m Mixed Team Air Rifle).
“Everyone stays in a village, just like the Olympics with apartment style suites and multiple roommates. There’s a dinning hall in the village that the athletes eat at too.”
Of course, that change to a shared environment is something for the athletes to adjust to, according to Sherry.
“There are some challenges around how to train effectively when we get to the venue so early. It can also be hard to decompress before the competition day while we’re staying in the village. These challenges can be really good learning opportunities, especially with the similarities to challenges we will likely face at the Olympics next year.”
This will be the first Pan American Games for Maddalena, but she is already familiar with the village atmosphere since she competed at the 2020 Olympics (earning 5th in 50m Three-Position Rifle/Smallbore).
Though the Solder said she did not perform exactly how she wanted during the Pan Am Selection Match, she is excited about the upcoming opportunity.
“I did not have any stellar outcomes during Pan Am Selections. However, my shot process is solid and my body feels pretty good. This is a good place to be heading into the Olympic season.”