SHOOTING SPORTS: TOP SHOTS CRAVE HEAD-T0-HEAD DUELS

ESPN Outdoors News: Target Sports Preview for ESPN Great Outdoor Games V

MADISON, Wis. – For most people, high-stress situations jumble thoughts and short-circuit performance, leaving them shaken and defeated. Not everyone, though, is crippled by such pressure. Some people thrive in such conditions, channeling that surging adrenaline to sharpen their focus and intensify their drive.

Not surprisingly, the top shots and reigning champions of the archery, rifle and shotgun competitions at ESPN Great Outdoor Games V presented by Dodge crave the pressure that greets them at the shooting line. Perhaps that’s why they can’t wait to compete in these head-to-head shooting events at the 2004 Great Outdoor Games, which will be held July 8-11 in Madison, Wis., at the Alliant Energy Center.

The target sports at the Great Outdoor Games feature 16 shooters each, with four of the spots reserved for the previous years’ top shots. The three fields include veterans of the Olympics and other prestigious international and national target competitions. Despite such pedigrees, some will falter in these single-elimination events.

GIVE ME THE BALL

One well-known shooter who thrives on adrenaline is Doug Koenig of Alburtis, Pa., who won the gold medal at the 2003 Great Outdoor Games in Reno, Nev. Koenig is widely regarded as the world’s best all-around firearms shooter, having won national and world championships in pistol, shotgun and rifle events. Before winning his first Great Outdoor Games’ rifle event last year, he had won three straight silvers in the event.

Koenig says the word “pressure” always comes to the fore at the ESPN event.

“To me, no matter what the sport or the event, I’m the kind of competitor who wants the chance to win with a last-second shot,” Koenig said. “It’s like the baseball player who wants to bat in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the chance to drive in the winning run. I relish moments when it’s now or never. You perform or you don’t, and there’s no tomorrow.

“I shoot my best when I have to do it right then and there, and that’s what the Great Outdoor Games are all about,” Koenig continued. “I shoot events every year that are pressure-packed, but the Great Outdoor Games are more intense because of the head-to-head match-ups. Anything can happen. Your biggest fear is getting matched against someone in the first round who gets hot and knocks you out. You might be the best shot day in, day out, but if your opponent is hot and you’re not ready for it, you’re heading home right now. That’s a real fear but that’s why I like this event.”

Olympic archer Jay Barrs of Salt Lake City coordinates the archery competition at the Great Outdoor Games, and is no stranger to the stress of competition. He said the mark of all champions is the way they welcome pressure.

“Whether it’s Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Brett Favre, they all want the ball when the game hangs in the balance,” Barrs said. “That same attitude shows up in the target sports. Everyone out there feels the adrenaline rush, but champions feel butterflies and get excited about it. They don’t tell themselves to calm down. They go for it. The guys who feel butterflies and get nervous about it … well, they’re the ones who wilt in head-to-head competition. You see it all the time at the Great Outdoor Games.”

THE GAMERS

Scott Robertson of Flower Mound, Texas, is the 2003 gold medalist in the Great Outdoor Games’ shotgun event. He won the gold during a dramatic six-round elimination shoot-off in “overtime” against teenage phenom Brett Dorak of Sobieski, Wis. In fact, Robertson said cheering crowds, TV cameras, klieg lights and tough opponents usually inspire his best performances.

“I do much better under pressure,” Robertson said. “I’m a bad practicer. I was shooting so lousy during the practice rounds in Reno that some people asked what was wrong. I told them not to worry. I need a little bit of nerves to get it going. I want that pressure and I look forward to head-to-head match-ups because not everyone reacts well to them. It’s not just the competition. It’s the techniques you need. The speed-loading aspect of this event is pretty much nonexistent in other competitive shotgun events. All those things get into everyone else’s minds and I know it affects them.”

Dorak, who just completed his freshman year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point -- two hours from Madison -- seems the picture of calm when he steps to the shooting line wearing his trademark flip-flop sandals. He said he might look relaxed, but he feels all the pressure and excitement. And he always welcomes it.

“I’m able to tune out everything and create a good mental focus when I’m shooting,” Dorak said. “The ESPN rounds are fast-paced and they’re over before you know it. Unlike most shotgun matches, you’re not shooting hundreds of rounds. When you’re up there, you need the mental strength to stay focused. If you’re not, you might be finished after only 20 shots. You also need some luck, but you must have the composure to keep your shooting and reloading techniques as smooth, precise and consistent as possible.”

Darren Collins of Galena, Kansas won gold in the archery competition in Reno last summer. He said mastery and control of shooting techniques is equally important when shooting the bow and arrow. The ESPN event is the only major archery tournament that demands rapid aiming and firing in head-to-head match-ups, but confronting those challenges isn’t the only stress generator. Collins, like Koenig, fears but welcomes the “perform-or-else” challenge of the Great Outdoor Games.

“I’ve always done better in single-elimination formats,” Collins said. “You win now or you go home. If you aren’t ready for the first arrow, you can’t just make it up later. There are no later rounds if the first guy beats you. Not only is the format tough, but the shooters get better every year. I usually need pressure to perform to my abilities. It forces me to focus. Some guys don’t handle it the same way. They buckle at the knees and shoot below their capabilities.

“You see that all the time at the Great Outdoor Games, which is why I like the event so much,” Collins added. “I don’t think there could be more pressure in an archery tournament. Any single-elimination tournament is pressure-packed, but at the Great Outdoor Games you’re shooting in front of a large, cheering crowd, and you know it will be televised to a hundred million homes. Each time you aim, everything could count on that one shot, and it often does.”

The shooting sports venue at the ESPN Great Outdoor Games in Madison will be located in Quann Park on the Alliant Energy Center grounds. The archery rounds will be Friday, July 9, from 2-4 p.m. The first round and quarterfinals of the shotgun competition will be that evening from 8-10 p.m. The rifle competition will be Saturday, July 10, from 12:30 to 4 p.m., and the shotgun semifinals and finals follow, running 9-10 p.m.

Admission to the Great Outdoor Games is free. The Games will be televised on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC from July 14 through July 19.

Top outdoor athletes from around the world compete for entry into the ESPN Great Outdoor Games, 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.