Shooting events have been part of all but two Olympic Games, 1904 in St. Louis and 1928 in Amsterdam. The founder of the modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, Pierre de Coubertin, himself was a French pistol champion and supported the inclusion of six shooting events in the first Summer Games. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer has a report from Athens on some of the military members of the United States Shooting Team.
There are 21 members of the U.S. Olympic Shooting team and seven of them are in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.
The unit was established in 1956 at the direction of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to raise the standards of marksmanship throughout the U.S. Army, and because he was not happy that other countries were badly beating the United States in Olympic shooting events.
Sergeant First Class Brett Erickson, who shoots trap and double trap, explains.
"We are active duty military. We are regular soldiers," he says. "We still keep current in our military training, but most of time we get to train to shoot. And our job is to shoot, compete and win in Olympics, World Championships, World Cups, international and national competitions."
Erickson says the members of the unit also do public relations and recruiting. They often go to schools and talk to students about joining the Army. But he says first and foremost they are soldiers.
At age 43, with 19 and half years of military service, Erickson is the eldest member of the Army Marksmenship Unit who is on the U.S. Olympic shooting team. He's a five-time national champion and this is his third Olympics.
One of his career highlights was breaking two world records in winning the men's double trap at the 1990 World Championships in Moscow.
Erickson feels lucky to be in Athens. While on a training run less than two months before the Olympics, he collapsed and his heart actually stopped beating. Fortunately, two fellow shooters were him and performed a lifesaving rescue using CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation) and mouth to mouth resuscitation. Doctors said Erickson had suffered a blockage to his heart and they installed an internal pacemaker on July 7. He was in the hospital for three weeks, but he says he's about 90 percent recovered and his shooting does not seem to be affected.
Erickson says shooting is a fickle sport.
"There are so many variables out there, with conditions of the [shooting] range, with weather conditions, with conditions of rifles and pistols," he says. "You know sometimes you get a rifle that just doesn't shoot a 10 [best score on the target] when you put it [aim it] there. So there are a lot of things that can happen that you don't necessarily have control of."
Erickson says his fellow soldiers in combat are always in their thoughts.
"Everybody in the military has a job," he says. "Right now our job is to shoot and win in the Olympics. Just like the guys in Iraq, they have a job. The guys in Afghanistan. I know they're over there doing everything in their power to do their job and do it well. And I feel confident that they are. At the same token, I'm here trying to do my job well and that's try to win a medal."
Brett Erickson says you train for the Olympics for four years hoping you can go out there and have your best day, but that out of the 40 or 50 competitors in each of the events, 30 are legitimate medal contenders.
After winning one gold and two bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the goal for this U.S. Olympic Shooting team is five or six medal.
Athens shooting events continue each day through Sunday. Brett Erickson competes in the double trap event on Tuesday, with the final round at 1420 UTC.