Soldiers with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Shotgun Team helped set one world record and win four medals for the United States at the 2023 International Shooting Sports Federation World Championship in Baku, Azerbaijan, Aug. 14 - Sept. 1.
The Soldiers, who are all stationed at Fort Moore, Georgia, competed in the ISSF World Championships as a part of USA Shooting, the National Governing Body for the sport of shooting. The Soldiers, along with their civilian teammates, competed side by side with the best shotgun athletes from 31 other nations in both international trap and skeet events.
Being selected to compete in Baku as a part of the U.S. Trap Team was an honor for Burlington, Wisconsin native, Sgt. Alicia Gough.
“I was very excited and humbled to compete at the World Championships. This was the first time I’ve made a World Team, and I am grateful for the chance to represent the Army and Team USA.”
Though Gough’s first 75 targets put her behind the leaders, her next set of 50 targets were a no miss, making her first World Championships extremely helpful in terms of training.
“While my performance left a little to be desired, I had a great second day and learned some new skills that I believe will be critical to high performance in the future.”
Fellow trap teammate, Sgt. Rachel Tozier, agreed that competing in Baku was the best way to prepare for the upcoming Olympic Trials that will serve as part of the selection process for which athletes represent the United States at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
“Competing at World Championships is invaluable when it comes to preparing for Olympic Team Selection,” said the Pattonsburg, Missouri native.
“Being able to shoot among, and against, the best competitors in the world forces you to up your game and brings out any flaws that may need work. The opportunity to see those flaws offers useful feedback that will improve training and performance.”
Tozier tweaked her game the next day in Baku for the Mixed Trap Team event and got better results. Tozier and her civilian teammate, 2020 Olympian Derrick Mein, made it into the Final and claimed the Silver Medal behind Portugal’s Joao Azevedo and Maria Ines Coelho de Barros, which definitely helped her confidence.
“Winning the Silver Medal for Trap Mixed Team helped me feel more prepared for Olympic Trials by allowing me more experience in serious competition and shootingunder pressure.”
USAMU teammate, Staff Sgt. Will Hinton performed great, hitting 123 of 125 targets and making it into the Final. However, with the stiff competition, missing just two targets pushed the Lawrenceville, Georgia native back to fourth place. Just missing the podium is painful for any competitive athlete, but Hinton said those results did not ruin his enthusiasm.
“Overall, this World Championship was exciting for me. I was pleased with my overall performance and happy to see my new training plan and approach worked in my favor.”
When the Men’s Trap Team event came around, the U.S. men won the Gold Medal, beating out Italy and the Czech Republic who followed with the Silver and Bronze.
The U.S. Gold Medal Team included Hinton, Mein and USAMU’s Staff Sgt. Derek Haldeman.
Claiming a win over the shotgun powerhouse of Italy was more than just fun, it added confidence in the process, explained Hinton.
“Anytime you secure a Gold Medal, individual or team, it builds armor to your game. You have to execute your shooting skills to the best of your ability and winning gold in Men’s Team Trap was a great reward personally. I love seeing the USA on the podium.”
Athletes competing in international skeet endured the same intense level of competition, with more than 120 men and 70 women all vying for the Gold.
Staff Sgt. Christian Elliott shot a strong 123 targets out of 125. However, the competition was so tight, that so did six other international athletes. So those six athletes had to have a shoot-off for the one position left in the Final. Greece, Finland and Egypt ended up on the podium in the end.
When it came time for the Men’s Skeet Team event, the U.S. Team of Elliott, Staff Sgt. Dustan Taylor and Olympic Gold Medalist Vincent Hancock, who is a USAMU alum, secured the Gold Medal. The Soldier/Veteran team broke 369 of 375 targets, beating out teams from Greece and Italy that followed with the Silver and Bronze Medals.
The women’s individual trap competition was just as close, but the three U.S. women all made it into the Final. USAMU’s Spc. Samantha Simonton edged out her U.S. Teammate Austen Smith, but ended up fourth, just off the podium. The other remaining U.S. Teammate, Dania Vizzi, earned the Silver Medal behind Solovakia’s Danka Bartekova.
In the Women’s Skeet Team event though, the U.S. women turned up the heat. Not only did they win the Gold Medal, but they also set a new world record when they beat out the Italian team with their combined score of 365/375.
The U.S. team was not quite done yet, the civilian team of Hancock and Smith grabbed one more Gold Medal for the United States in the Mixed Skeet Team event. This duo also earned the Nation one more world record with that win.
When the shotgun portion of the World Championships was over, the U.S. Shotgun Team earned six separate medals and set two new world records. USAMU Soldiers contributed to four of those medals and one of the world records.
However, while those accomplishments are impressive, the competition in Baku had an even more important value, said Hinton.
“Competing at the World Championships offers a huge amount of experience and the ability to compete against the best in the world. When you win, place, or beat the world’s best it can have a huge impact on your shooting game.”
And with the Paris Olympics less than a year away, the opportunities for Olympic Quotas are reduced. Currently, the United States has earned the maximum of two quotas in men’s trap and skeet and women’s skeet, with USAMU Soldiers winning one quota in each of those categories. In women’s trap though, U.S. athletes have only one quota, so there is one more for the taking.
The next opportunity for the United States to win that remaining quota in women’s trap is at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile October 20 – November 5, and Gough said that is her next mission.
“I am looking forward to competing again for the Army and Team USA at the upcoming Pan American Games. That match will represent another first for me, and a chance to earn a quota for women’s trap. Ultimately, this match will be the final international match of the year for me and will round out a great season and propel training between now and the much-anticipated Part II Olympic Trials next spring.”