Quigley aims for medal, not notoriety

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Even by the rigorous standards of Olympic shotgun, George Quigley Jr. is a straight shooter. He has no pretenses about his place and no illusions about his prospects. He shoots skeet, not bull.

''I'm in a sport that's not really well-known,'' he said. ''People tell me, 'You're basically the Babe Ruth of skeet shooting. Doesn't it bother you that you don't get much recognition?' The answer is no. I'm just a regular guy. I know I'm not going to get a Wheaties box.''

One week before the Opening Ceremonies of the Atlanta Summer Games, Quigley has yet to quit his day job. Cincinnati's itchiest trigger finger was still at work on the accounts receivable Friday at Camargo Publications.

Legend in his spare time

Some athletes postpone their professional lives to pursue an Olympic dream. Quigley, 28, has managed to attain world-class standing in his spare time. He is a regular guy with irregular abilities.

Most of America's top guns are military marksmen. Quigley's fellow Olympic skeet shooters are Air Force Maj. Bill Roy and Army Sgt. Todd Graves. To compete as a civilian requires a real commitment. To compete successfully requires concentration, coordination and constancy.

Shotguns are notoriously unforgiving. In skeet shooting, particularly, a single shot can mean the difference between a medal and a meltdown.

George Quigley Jr. will attest to that. In 1988, he lost the last spot on the U.S. Olympic team because of a mind-blowing miss on his next-to-last shot. In a sport whose elite competitors hit their targets 95 percent of the time, this was tantamount to losing a football playoff on a muffed extra point.

''I blew it,'' Quigley said. ''I choked. And it really haunted me over the next two or three years. I was like a golfer who gets the yips on a short putt. I was a mental nightmare.''

Happily, when Quigley speaks of this trauma today, it is in the past tense. While Roy is regarded as America's most consistent skeet shooter, Quigley has become the country's best pressure performer. He won the 1993 Cairo World Cup in a sudden-death shootoff, and qualified for the Olympic team in April by shooting a perfect playoff round.

''These are the Olympic games and strange things happen,'' said Lloyd Woodhouse, the Olympic shotgun coach. ''But if the results turn out like they have in the past, he is certainly a candidate for a medal. He has a lot of experience, and he never quits mentally. I think mental toughness is the most important thing in this sport.''

Reflexes, presumably, rank second. Olympic skeet shooting is not so much about aim as it is instinct. Competitors call for their four-inch clay disks to be flung while holding the stock of their 12-gauge shotguns at hip level. Only after the target appears can the weapon be raised to shoulder level.

Because the targets typically travel at speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour, a shooter has no more than half a second to squeeze the trigger while the disks are still in range. Margin for error is minimal. The shotgun pellets used in Olympic skeet shooting provide about two feet of coverage in the target area.

''You don't have time to think about it,'' Woodhouse said. ''You simply respond to the release of the target. If you blink your eyes, it's too late.''

Practice can make perfect

George Quigley Jr. was introduced to skeet shooting as an 8-year-old and promptly hit 18 of the first 25 shots he fired. When he was 11, Quigley shattered 100 straight targets in competition. He may have missed the cut on the Moeller football team, but was able to achieve All-America status both in high school and at Xavier University.

To reach the Olympics, Quigley has averaged about 50,000 practice shells per year.

''I've always been a competitor,'' he said. ''And I've worked very hard at it. I've put just as much time in the shooting field as Carl Lewis has on the track.''

Maybe he doesn't get a Wheaties box. But he might get a medal.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published July 13, 1996.