By Tim Hipps
Army News Service
TUCSON, Ariz. — Resembling the form that earned him a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Army Sgt. Vincent Hancock crushed skeet competitors at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Shotgun Team Trials May 18-20 at the Tucson Trap Skeet Club.
Hancock missed only five of 275 targets and prevailed by 11 points during three days of shooting in the desert. Frank Thompson of Alliance, Neb., earned Team USA’s second Olympic berth in skeet by winning a three-way shoot-off against Jon Michael McGrath of Tulsa, Okla., and U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program Staff Sgt. Mark Weeks of Clinton Township, N.J.
In double trap competition, Sgt. Glen Eller, a U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit shooter from Katy, Texas, earned his fourth Olympic berth with a victory over AMU teammate Sgt. Jeff Holguin of Yorba Linda, Calif.
“I’m shooting probably some of the best scores and rounds that I’ve shot in a long, long time, so I’m really looking forward to getting back on that world stage and winning another Olympic gold,” said Hancock, 23, a soldier in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga. “I’m moving the gun great and seeing the targets really good. A couple of the targets that I missed were basically just a lapse of concentration on my part, which is a good thing because I know I can fix that. Other than that, my mechanics are great and everything is looking really good.”
Hancock missed two clay pigeons on a windy Friday, one on Saturday, and two on Sunday. He obliterated the other 270 to punch his ticket to London.
“It’s pretty much just a relief to get this behind me,” Hancock said. “I was really looking forward to coming out here. It’s a good match to prepare myself for the Olympics because it’s a big match and it’s got a lot of weight, just another opportunity for me to go out and run my routine and get ready for the Olympic Games.”
Hancock came to Tucson holding a three-target lead from the Fall Selection Matches in Kerrville, Texas, where the first half of the U.S. Olympic Shotgun Team Trials were contested.
“I came in with a lead so I was comfortable, but I wanted to just build on that,” Hancock said. “I wanted to put as much distance between me and second and third place as possible. I ran my routine just like I would at a World Cup or any international match, just put the hammer down.”
Several years have passed since Hancock put together a performance this strong.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t seen it in the last couple or three years,” said Team USA head shotgun coach Bret Erickson, 52, a retired Army sergeant first class and a four-time Olympic shooter who will make his Olympic coaching debut in London. “Obviously, when you spend your life shooting for an Olympic gold medal and then he goes in 2008 and does it, it’s like ‘what do I do now?’ And you see him just kind of sitting back and saying, ‘Alright, I’ve already been there and done that.’ And you let up. You have to. You can’t keep that intensity for year after year after year.”
But Hancock has geared up again for some off the most intense competition in the world, Erickson said.
“He’s getting back. The fire is back. He went to London for the pre-test event and made the final, got in a shoot-off for a bronze, lost the shoot-off and finished fourth,” Erickson said. “But, hey, nobody ever wins that match and then wins the Olympics. He came in fourth in 2008 in the pre-Olympic match and that worked out pretty well, so I think we’re just fine.”
Erickson was delighted to see the determined look return to Hancock’s eyes, along with the confident swagger the Soldier displays between shots.
“It was good to see him back in a final to feel that rush and just put himself in position to win,” Erickson said. “You can never count him out. He is absolutely one of the best, if not the best skeet shooter in the world. We just haven’t seen it in a couple years, but I think it’s coming.”
Weeks, who has competed in five U.S. Olympic Shotgun Team Trials and served as an assistant coach for Hancock in Beijing, concurred.
“To be honest with you, I focused a lot on my own game plan, but following [Hancock], I am always in awe watching him,” Weeks said. “Being in the sport for so long, I haven’t seen anybody who just is that consistent and that dominant and is that good at putting a shotgun in his hand. The kid is a one of a kind and a great human being. I’m glad to call him my teammate. He’s told me many times I’m a big brother to him, and he’s like a little brother to me.
“I’ve got to shoot with him and witness everything that he’s been successful with since 2005. I’ve been a competitor with him on the trips and watched him win medals all the way up to being the assistant coach and watching him win the gold medal in Beijing.”
“When I’m old and got grandkids, he’s going to be somebody we’re going to talk about forever,” Weeks added. “He’s going to go down as one of the greatest shotgun shooters to ever set foot in the international game.”
Hancock, who ever so humbly takes such praise in stride, said he feels fortunate just to be reinvigorated about his game.
“Excitement,” Hancock said. “I had an off year last year basically because I didn’t really know where to go with myself. In 2009 and part of 2010, I was just kind of riding the high off of wining the Olympic gold in 2008 and I kind of lost track a little bit. At the end of last year, I reassessed and reset my goals and now I’m actually enjoying going out there and shooting again. I’ve got something to look forward to.”
Since winning the gold medal in Beijing, Hancock and wife Rebekah have had two daughters: Bailey, who turns 2 in August, and 3-month old Brenlyn.
“I’ve been able to compartmentalize my life a little better,” he said. “A lot of things have been going on with two kids and everything after the Olympics. It’s basically just breaking down the parts of your life and living each part separately.”
Hancock’s euphoria of parenting has slowly but surely been revolving back to the shooting range.
“It’s excitement because I really want to get back there again,” he said of securing his second Olympic berth. “And now that I know that I’m going back, I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time, ever since I left.”
“Knowing I can get there and be on that stage and have the opportunity to go out there and win an Olympic gold medal, there’s no other feeling that can match that other than what my kids give to me and what my loving wife gives to me.”
Hancock won’t load all his shells in one or even two barrels in London.
“I’m going to take whatever I get because I’m going to try my hardest,” he said. “Whatever that ends up being, whether it be first or last, I’ll be happy. As long as I give it my best, I’ll be happy. Obviously, I’m not satisfied with anything less than first, but I’m going to go out there and just try my hardest and whatever happens, happens.”
Hancock appreciates knowing that AMU shotgun teammates Sgt. Glen Eller, a four-time Olympian and Beijing Games gold medalist in double trap, and Staff Sgt. Joshua Richmond also will be competing in London.
“Glen and I went to the last one together and we won our medals together, so it will be good to have him there again because he’s very experienced,” Hancock said. “Since I’ve got one under my belt, too, we definitely can help each other out and help some of the other athletes out as well.
“Joshua has come a really long way, he really has. He’s extremely consistent and that’s what’s getting him those medals. Obviously, you’ve got to like his chance to win an Olympic medal. And you never count Glen out, of course, because he can pop a score off and set a new world record. You just never know with him. Both of them are sitting in a very good position.”
The London Games will mark Hancock’s final Olympic appearance as an active-duty soldier.
“I definitely want to thank the AMU,” he said. “They’ve been there for me since I came in and helped me get through two Olympics. This will be my last one with them.”
Hancock plans to leave the Army in November to help his father, Craig, open the Hancock Shooting Academy in Eatonton, Ga. Vincent also plans to earn his college degree at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., or the University of Georgia.
For now, however, he has another Olympic skeet match to shoot.
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