8/13/08 Spc. Walton Glenn Eller III, of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, set two Olympic records en route to winning a gold medal in double trap at the Beijing Shooting Range here yesterday.
Marksmanship unit teammate Spc. Jeffrey Holguin finished fourth in the event.
Eller's score of 145 in the qualification rounds eclipsed the previous Olympic record of 144 set in the 2004 Athens Games by United Arab Emirates shooter Ahmed Almaktoum, who finished seventh in Beijing.
In double trap, competitors fire their 12-gauge shotguns from five adjacent shooting stations. At each station, two targets are thrown simultaneously from an underground bunker at speeds up to 50 mph at set angles and height. The targets are thrown with a variable delay of up to one second, and competitors get one shot per target.
"I realized with my last pair to go, 'Oh, the Olympic record is only 144. If I hit my last pair, I'm going to get the Olympic record.'"
When Eller did that, he said, he sensed he was on his way to a spectacular day. He missed his first two targets in the final, but settled down and missed only three shots the rest of the way.
"If you shoot the Olympic record [in qualification rounds] and you've got a little bit of a lead, you expect to come out with gold," Eller said. "But after I went out there [in the final] and missed that first pair, it was a little dicey there for a second, but I brought it all back together."
Eller's final score of 190 topped Almaktoum's world record of 189, also set in Athens. Italy's Francesco D'Aniello won the silver medal in Beijing with a score of 187, and China's Binyuan Hu took the bronze with a 184 total.
"It's incredible," said Eller, 26, a native of Katy, Texas, who is stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. "I finally made a final in the Olympics. I came in like 12th [in Sydney] and 17th [in Athens], and finally came out and put a good day together. This was the only thing I was worried about for the last two years."
Explaining his key to success, Eller reached into his vest and revealed a handful of trading cards.
"Hard work," the three-time Olympian said as he shuffled cards featuring soldiers of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. "That, and I had my teammates with me. The military has been great to me. They've helped me fulfill a dream that, without them, I don't think would've ever happened. I owe everything to them.
"Joining the Army was an incredible gain for me," he continued. "It gave me a lot of discipline. I was fortunate enough to go into the Army Marksmanship Unit. It's great having those guys to train with every day. They really pushed me along. Just working with them all day, every day, it keeps you in it.
Being a soldier means he's expected to do what's asked of him, Eller noted. "For right now, they asked me to come to the Olympics and win a gold medal for the United States," he said. "I don't know how to better represent them than with a gold medal in my hand."
Eller said he couldn't wait to give his parents a big bear hug.
"I'm going to go find my parents and celebrate," he said. "They've been here all week, and to the last two Olympics, watching me. To have them here and to finally win a gold medal for them is incredible. The crowd was amazing. The facilities were incredible."
Holguin, 29, of Yorba Linda, Calif., finished fourth with a 182 total.
"I shot really well today, until the final," Holguin said. "This game is all about putting four good rounds together, and honestly, I could only manage two. I had a mediocre round and a bad round. So when you've got two good rounds, they don't offset the mediocre and bad rounds.
"Finishing fourth," he added, "that's where you finish when you shoot like I did in the final."
On this day, Holguin tipped his cap to Eller.
"It's all about him now," Holguin said. "Glenn Eller and I started shooting against each other a long, long time ago, and we actually enlisted in the Army together in the fall of 2006. This was half of our goal. We wanted gold and silver at the Olympics. We came really close, but I'm happy for him."
But during the competition, Holguin said, he did not pull any punches.
"When we're out on the shooting line, we take the gloves off and go at it as hard as anybody else," Holguin said. "I don't feel bad when he misses a target. If he would have lost the gold medal, yeah, I would have felt badly for him, but not if I was in the silver medal position. I'd be chasing him the whole way."
Holguin agreed with Eller that joining USAMU was their best move.
"Joining the Army was probably the best thing I could've done for my shooting career, just because of the discipline and structure that comes along with the Army," Holguin said. "The Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning has world-class shooting facilities. We shoot with and against some of the best in the world," he said. "I've been training with the 2008 Olympic gold medalist for the last two years straight since I joined the Army, so the Army has definitely taken my shooting to the next level.
"My heartfelt thanks go out to everybody who has been behind me this whole time, but it's Glenn's day," Holguin said. "He earned it. He deserves it."
Author Tim Hipps works in the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs Office.
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