Rio 2016

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It’s Our Story To Tell

By Shari LeGate

The first medal of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games came from the Women’s 10m Air Rifle event. Having a shooting sport kick off the Olympics is a pretty high honor, especially considering there were only 15 shooting events. By comparison, Rio 2016 had 47 events in Athletics and 34 events in Swimming alone.
The USA Shooting Team competed in 14 of the 15 events and brought home three medals; one gold and two bronze. It’s not the performance they were hoping for, but still, a respectful appearance. More than 11,000 athletes from 207 countries participated in Rio. There were 306 sets of medals awarded in 28 sports for 300 events — a lot of athletes, a lot of events and a lot of criticism of the media’s coverage.

Fans of the shooting sports are passionate, loyal and not afraid to express their views. Their enthusiasm was on display during these Olympics as they vehemently voiced their opinions on the media coverage (or lack thereof) for the shooting sports.

I’ve been involved in the Olympic movement for most of my career and there’s a harsh reality when it comes to covering the Olympic Games. The “Big Seven” (Swimming, Athletics, Gymnastics, Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer and Diving) garner most of the press, leaving the remaining 20 sports to fight for media coverage and respect.

The “Big Seven” aren’t selected randomly; they’re determined by viewership and general interest, and the numbers speak for themselves. Dating back to the First Olympiad (Athens 1896), Team USA has won a total of 2,520 medals. Most of the medals have been won in Athletics (767, 32%) followed by swimming (520, 22%). Each sport has big personalities, like Michael Phelps, the most-decorated athlete of any nation, and the media and general public love to follow them and their great moments.

Games Standout: Ginny Thrasher

The USA Shooting Team had a lot of great moments in Rio 2016 as well, starting with 19-year-old Ginny Thrasher — who won the Games’ first gold medal. Admittedly even for the most avid shooter, 10m air rifle isn’t the most exciting sport to watch. But Thrasher, who was ranked 23rd in the world going into the Games, raised the sport to a new level. Not expected to medal, Thrasher took the gold and did so in a very decisive manner — setting an Olympic record and defeating the top-ranked Chinese.

Thrasher received a substantial amount of coverage for her achievement. Immediately, going from an unknown college student attending West Virginia University to an Olympic Champion, this talented athlete charmed reporters and news anchors with a media savvy reserved for seasoned veterans as she made the rounds of television and publications interviews.

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The USA Shooting Team poses in front of Olympic Rings during its stay in Rio.
USA Shooting athletes competed in 14 of 15 events, winning three medals.
Courtesy of USA Shooting.

Coverage Boost

The USA Shooting Team received more media coverage and exposure than you might think. To that end, the Associated Press assigned a writer to cover the USA Shooting team, leading to eight different pre-Olympic stories that received widespread exposure in newspapers across the country. AP writer John Marshall covered every aspect of the shooting events professionally and diligently.

The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) invited skeet shooters, Morgan Craft, Kim Rhode and Vincent Hancock to the Team USA Media Summit for a media blitz. The athletes got to tell their story to the world’s media and were included in the gathering of exclusive social media, video content and photographs by a wide variety of Olympic entities.

Skeet shooter Kim Rhode’s bronze medal win and historic victory of being only the second athlete (and the first American) to win a medal in six consecutive Olympics was published by multiple major U.S. outlets: including USA Today, CBS Sports, the New York Times, SB Nation, NBC, WG, Time, Forbes, The Huffington Post, NPR and the Chicago Tribune. These entities let Rhode speak out on her support of the Second Amendment and the current political atmosphere, which she did eloquently.

However, there was some mistreatment of our shooters. Corey Cogdell, who won her second bronze medal in women’s trap (joining Rhode as the only other American woman to win multiple medals in the shooting sports), was referred to as “the wife of an NFL player” by the Chicago Tribune when it tweeted her Olympic win. The description made reference to her husband, Chicago Bears linesman Mitch Unrein.

Cogdell handled the controversy with grace and elegance, saying “It didn’t come off to me as something that was intentional or malicious, but they could have probably chosen a better heading to alert people of my victory.” A backlash ensued and the paper apologized.

Other sports also get slighted. One of the greatest upsets at the 2016 Olympics happened in Women’s Wrestling. American Helen Maroulis won the gold medal defeating Japan’s Saori Yoshida, the favorite and a legend in the sport. Unfortunately, the controversy of Ryan Lochte’s escapades completely overshadowed the accomplishment and pushed her to the back pages.

Maroulis’s response to being ignored by the media reminds us of what true champions are made of: “I didn’t come here to win a gold medal for the media attention,” she said. “Yesterday was about stepping on the mat and just wrestling to the best of my ability and really taking joy in what I do. If they covered Ryan Lochte over my match, well, I think that’s a poor decision on their part, but I’m not running the show. My job is to be a wrestler, and I stepped on the mat and did what I needed to do.”

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Ginny Thrasher captured the first gold medal of Rio 2016 in dominating fashion.
With a score of 208.0, Thrasher also set an Olympic record in Women’s 10m Air
Rifle. Courtesy of USA Shooting.

A Closer Look

There’s been a lot of commentary from within the shooting sports community of what is seen as a lack of coverage and disrespect for our sport. But the fact is, every medal opportunity the USA Shooting team had was broadcast live on the NBC network. Even when no American was in the Final, such as Men’s Skeet, the event still aired.

The Women’s Skeet Final and the dramatic shoot-off of Rhode’s historic run for a sixth medal was shown in its entirety. The last shooting event of the Olympics, Men’s 3-Position Rifle was scheduled for an hour broadcast, but when an American failed to make the Final, the segment was cut down.
The truth is, no matter how much coverage and exposure we get, it’s never going to be enough for those whose passion for the shooting sports runs deep. With over 11,000 athletes and 300 events, expecting full coverage of every athlete and every sport is unrealistic.

According to USA Shooting, the three U.S. athletes that medaled were part of the USOC/NBC Managing Victory package that included press conferences, in-studio interviews, social media content and USA House appearances. USA Shooting Team athletes received exclusive hits on the “Today Show” — on the day of Opening Ceremonies, as well as on the last day of the show’s Rio coverage. Other opportunities included an ESPN SportsCenter interview for Ginny Thrasher and a Fox & Friends interview for Kim Rhode.

We Can Set The Record Straight

Yes, a number of news outlets acknowledged gun violence and political rhetoric have attached a stigma to shooting as a sport, but they still covered the events. In doing so, they presented us with a wonderful opportunity: To set the record straight about who and what we are. As an industry, we can encourage education about firearms and promote the shooting sports just as these three medalists did.

Truth be told, we’re not a “Big Seven” sport. We’re not going to grace the front pages of mainstream newspapers or be the lead story on network TV. So it’s up to us in the shooting sports to tout the accolades of our athletes, and not just for a few weeks every four years. Be honest now, did you know the name “Ginny Thrasher” back in June?

Many of our USA Shooting athletes are unknown, competing in events rarely covered and get little attention in non-Olympic years. It’s up to us in the shooting sports industry to tell those stories. Sometimes we fall short. We get so caught up in fighting for coverage and respect that we forget to tell the real story. Instead of whining about being shunned and ignored, let’s start telling these stories. No one tells our story better than we do. Our sport deserves it, and our industry’s athletes have earned it.

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