Shotgunner Jorge Rodriguez of Henderson, Nev., rifleman Richard Aitken of Colorado Springs, Colo., and archer Tim Gillingham of Orem, Utah, won their respective qualifiers over the weekend and are already plotting their strategies for the Games.
The Olympians, national champions and international athletes who battled for perfection will be telecast May 8 at noon ET/11 a.m. CT on ESPN2.
SHOTGUN CHAMP TRADES BULL RIDING FOR BULL'S-EYES
Jorge Rodriguez and Keith Brown faced a breathtaking backdrop of rocky outcroppings and blue skies, but their attention was entirely focused on a field of metal targets, waiting for the call to shoot the day's final round.
In less than a minute, the last shots of rifle fire faded and Rodriguez, of Henderson, Nev., had qualified for a spot in Great Outdoor Games V.
"Wow," Rodriguez said. "I think I'm very competitive at anything I do, but I didn't know I was going to get it done on the first try. But I did, and now I have my ticket to the Great Outdoor Games."
Rodriguez, a former professional bull rider, was one of eight riflemen and -women competing in the National Shooting Sports Foundation's Desert Lake Sporting Clays tournament with the hope of making a trip to Great Outdoor Games V, widely regarded as the ultimate championship for outdoor sports.
In July, Rodriguez will go head-to-head with some of the best shooters in the country in the challenging Great Outdoor Games format that he encountered for the first time on Saturday. In the head-to-head format, shooters must first knock down every one of a bank of their own targets before they can proceed to the dueling tree.
The tree is actually a pair of upright target boxes, each containing four progressively smaller targets. When a shooter hits one of the targets within the dueling tree, it swings closed, presenting a red window. The competition ends with the first shooter to close all four targets in his dueling tree, but there's a catch. A shooter may shoot at the red window of his or her opponent's dueling tree, throwing the targets open again.
In the final match, Rodriguez and Brown picked off one another's targets almost as soon as they had closed. Rodriguez finally managed to close the fourth window of his dueling tree just a split second before Brown snapped off a shot to open it again, but it was enough to give Rodriguez the victory and his first visit to the Games.
Brown's breakout performance at the qualifier - which included a come-from-behind win in the semi-final round, despite a rifle jam that cost him precious seconds - may yet earn him a berth to the Games. After a spring of qualifying events, officials at the NSSF will invite up to eight shooters based on their season standings.
"I chased these guys all over the country last year, trying to qualify for the Games," said Brown, who is still recovering from a January bout with pneumonia. "It's fast paced, action packed, and wide open - it always comes down to that."
FORMER NATIONAL CHAMPION WINS SHOTGUN QUALIFIER
1985 National Champion shotgunner Richard Aitken left nothing but powder and crumbs in his wake Saturday night as he blasted his way to a berth in ESPN Great Outdoor Games V presented by Dodge in Madison, Wis., July 8-11.
Aitken, of Colorado Springs, Colo., had a perfect night, blasting 80 out of 80 targets to smithereens, despite intermittent showers that caused the clay targets to malfunction for much of the night, forcing all 16 shotgunners to reshoot multiple rounds.
Aitken marched through a talented field of competitors, finally meeting Jim Crouse of Reno, Nev., in the finals at 11:15 p.m. Despite a long night, Aitken never missed a shot, powdering two bouncing and three flying targets every time he stepped up to shoot.
"I had to make up for the rifle competition and this was the only way to do it," said Aitken, who lost in the early rounds of the rifle contest Saturday afternoon. "I know how to shoot a shotgun. That's all I had to do."
Aitken had plenty to prove: the legendary gunman lost in the first round of competition during the 2003 Great Outdoor Games. On Saturday, he became just the second Great Outdoor Games qualifier to shoot a perfect score, and the only one to do so in the rain. Despite his outstanding performance, he was humble about his chances at the big show.
"It'll start from scratch when I get there," he said. "It's a mental workout and it takes its toll on you."
UTAH ARCHER SHOOTS PERFECT ROUND, EARNS TRIP TO GAMES
If you ask Tim Gillingham, Sunday's final round of the Arrowsport Archery Eliminator was just about perfect. If you ask any of the other 15 competitors, Sunday's perfection began and ended with Gillingham's score: 30 out of a possible 30 points at the ESPN Great Outdoor Games qualifying event at the Desert Lake Shooting Center.
Scattered showers that were a slight irritant during Saturday's rifle and shotgun finals turned to a windy downpour on Sunday, just in time to nudge arrows off target and make for miserable shooting conditions. That didn't deter the men and women who were out to win a berth at Great Outdoor Games V presented by Dodge in Madison, Wis., July 8-11. In the end, however, it came down to Gillingham and Pennsylvania's Rod White, a two-time Olympian who brought home a gold medal from the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and a bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
"I just wasn't in this game," said White. "I just wasn't there. I think that's the first perfect score ever shot on this format and that's awesome."
Gillingham, of Orem, Utah, not only shot a target at each of the four shooting stations, but also opted to go for the smallest, most challenging (and points-laden) shots - making every one.
"I look forward to shooting this," Gillingham said. "It's an exciting event. I love it. The risk factor (of decision making) throws a big curve into it. It levels the playing field between the guys who are fast and the guys who are accurate."
Gillingham's strategy depended on using two bows - one set up for fast shooting that he used for the time-dependent stations, and one set up for accuracy over distance for the 40-yard shot that earned him 12 points and clinched the match. The stations, a fairly unusual mix of moving and novelty targets, are Gillingham's favorite part of the competition.
"All of archery benefits from a format you can come back with, like in golf when you can birdie," he said. "It's an exciting sport and this is a really fun format for people to watch; most other archery isn't."
Top outdoor athletes from around the world compete for entry into ESPN Great Outdoor Games V, held in Madison, Wis. July 8-11. The ultimate championship of outdoor sports features one-of-a-kind, head-to-head competition in timber and target events, sporting dogs, and fishing. While entertaining large crowds on site, the ESPN Great Outdoor Games also draws a worldwide television audience airing on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC Sports.
For additional information, contact ESPN Outdoors Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.espnoutdoorsmedia.com.