Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Parker's road to Sydney goes through Fort Benning




By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Jason Parker graduated from Xavier in 1996, he knew that he wanted to continue competitive shooting and take his best shot at the top of his sport: the Olympics.

        He had two choices: Join the U.S. team, move to Colorado Springs to train and live on a meager stipend; or join the Army, become part of its marksmanship team and receive a sergeant's salary to train and compete and help the Army recruit.

        In January 1997, Parker enlisted. He is stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., where his main military job is to win medals for the United States.

PARKER'S EVENT
  • What: Men's 10-meter air rifle
  • When: Sept.17 in Cincinnati (Sept. 18 in Australia)
  • Details: Parker has 1 hour, 45 minutes to take 60 shots from a standing position; every shot has a value of up to 10 points (final scores should be around 595 of 600).
  He will stand 10 meters from his target, which is the size of a period at the end of this sentence.
  The top eight after that round advance to the final, where they take 10 more shots, to be scored from 10.0 to 10.9 (average score in international competition should be around 102 out of 109).
  Scores from both shoots are combined to determine winners.
        That's exactly what he's going to try to do in Sydney, Australia, when the XU alum competes for the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team in the 10-meter air rifle competition.

        “I don't know what quite to expect,” Parker, 26, said before leaving the country. “It hasn't set in yet.

        “The U.S. has one of strongest teams across the board. I'm going to say we're going to come back with a couple medals for sure; I just don't know who's going to do it.”

        This is, of course, the fulfillment of a lifetime dream.

        Parker, from Omaha, Neb., was shooting BB guns in the woods at 3 years old. By age 6, he was hunting squirrels and rabbits, and later dove and deer. He enjoyed being outdoors.

        At 13, his father — a former competitive shooter in high-powered rifle — bought Parker his first competition air rifle.

        He did well. So well, in fact, that Dale Parker started telling his son that he could be an Olympian someday.

        “I never forgot about it,” Jason Parker said. “I always talked about it. In high school, I was fairly competitive. I told my friends I wanted to go to the Olympics. Some of them were like, "Yeah, right.'

        “When you start off, you progress so fast. I think that's why I stuck with it. I just liked being good at something.”

        Example? When Parker first started out, he'd score 250 out of 400 in 40-shot matches. Now, he'll score around 396 or 397 in a 40-shot match.

        “What separates top shooters from other ones is the ability to handle pressure,” Parker said. “I've always enjoyed that part of it. I generally handle it pretty well. The higher level you get to, the more mental it becomes. In practice, I've seen a lot of people shoot high scores, but they just can't do it in competition because there's more pressure.”

        At the 1996 Olympic trials, he finished eighth; he needed to be in the top two to make the team.

        In 1998 in Munich, Parker set two world records — one of which still stands.

        At Fort Benning, he works with at least eight former Olympians and said there are probably 20 in the marksmanship unit.

        “It's not a consistent sport,” said Parker, whose wife Andrea is also a former All-American Xavier's rifle team. “There's always somebody close to you. Air rifle is usually decided by two or three points. It's very unpredictable. You can go there and have one of your best days and not win the match. The top 15 people in the world can win on any given day.”



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