By Michael Molinaro, U.S. Army Marksmanship UnitAugust 4, 2012
LONDON (Army News Service, Aug. 3, 2012) -- The difference between shooting for an Olympic medal and watching from the stands came down to fractions of an inch for two U.S. Soldiers competing Friday in 50-meter prone rifle at the Royal Artillery Barracks.
Staff Sgt. Michael McPhail of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit lost his chance to compete in the final by three-tenths of a point in a shoot-off after qualifying with a score of 395. Teammate Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft came just one point away from getting into the shoot-off, scoring a 394 in his second Olympic games.
"With the level of talent out there you can't have an off day and I don't really think I did," said McPhail. "Shooting is no different than any other sport. If you want to be Super Bowl champ, NBA champ, you have to get some bounces, and I didn't get the bounce in my favor today."
After shooting his 595, McPhail looked up at the scoreboard and saw he had the fourth-highest score in the round. He also noticed eight other shooters shot a 595 and it would take five more pulls of the trigger to make the final.
Despite hitting all five targets in the center for a score of 51.3, the fifth highest score was a 51.6, an unfortunate pill to swallow for someone making their Olympic debut.
"I missed making the final by a millimeter, that's it," McPhail said. "I am not disappointed in the way I shot. Out of 65 shots, maybe one of those I would take back. There's not a lot more you can ask for."
McPhail's USAMU teammate Uptagrafft suffered nearly the same fate as McPhail. While not as dramatic as losing in a shoot-off, the two-time Olympian posted two 9.9s in qualification, meaning two of his shots were also millimeters from being 10s and a score of 396, good to make the final.
"I wanted to come in and shoot a good match and whatever happens, happens," said Uptagrafft. "I came in, shot a decent match and didn't make the final."
Tricky winds wreaked havoc on the field except for one shooter, Belarus' Sergei Martynov. In a performance for the ages, he tied the world record in qualification with a perfect score of 600 and followed that up with a final-round score of 105.5, setting a new world and Olympic record on his way to the gold medal. The normally reserved Martynov couldn't hide his excitement.
"It is natural to feel happy because I have been trying for this for more than 15 years in this discipline and this is one of my best days," Martynov said. "I am absolutely delighted. This will mean everything to my country."
Lionel Cox of Belgium earned the silver medal after shooting an overall score of 701.2, and Rajmond Debevec of Slovenia shot a 701.0 to claim the bronze medal.
The score Martynov shot drew the acclaim of fans and fellow competitors alike. Uptagrafft said it's the best shooting he has ever seen and McPhail was amazed at how the gold-medal winner shot his way through the wind.
"I didn't point a nine all day and I was down five points," McPhail said. "My gun didn't shoot a nine. The wind pushed me out and it was subtle. Shooting a 600 today is pretty hard. As a fan of the sport, I am thoroughly impressed."
With their Olympic event now complete, the Soldiers will turn into fans and soak in what London has to offer at these games. Uptagrafft said he and his wife Sandra, also an Olympian, will celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary Aug. 5, in London by going to Wimbledon.
McPhail has family in town and will tour the city. He said his Olympic experience has been everything he hoped for and more, saying "for a lot of people, this is the biggest thing in their life that will ever happen and it's cool to be a part of that."
Uptagrafft said he hopes to be in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and get one more crack at an Olympic medal. He was out of it from the beginning in 1996 when he competed in the Atlanta Games, but this time said he felt really good about his performance and looks to take the next step.
McPhail wants to take it day-by-day and reflect on his London event before looking too far ahead.
"I hope it's not my (last Olympics)," McPhail said. "I got a lot going for me right now. My daughter is going to be two, so I am really excited about that. My wife finishes grad school early next summer. I am a Soldier, husband, father, brother -- so things are going really well right now.
"I've lost before. I just missed out at the '08 trials. I've been beaten before and I'll get beat again. I went out, did everything I wanted to do, and I will sleep well tonight."