Olympic trapshooting may not be a mainstream sport, but it has a rich history. From just a few shooting events at the inaugural Olympic Games in 1896 to fifteen today, trapshooting as a sport has evolved steadily alongside serious advancements in firearm technology.
In fact, the history of Olympic trapshooting goes as far back as the very first Olympic games in Ancient Greece. It is a history beginning with men and women who used small arms and short-range weapons to compete in a variety of sporting events.
Although it is not as popular as it once was, trapshooting is one of the oldest sporting games in the world and it was one of the first to be included in the Olympic Games. And it’s still a valuable sport in many parts of the world today!
Olympic trapshooting; Overview
Being one of the most exciting Olympic events, there is a lot of skill, focus, and practice that goes into the sport. Olympic trapshooting is a physically exhausting event that tests shooters’ skills with firearms. Here is a brief look at the history of Olympic trapshooting competitions.
A sport that demands great focus and precision, Olympic trapshooting has been practiced since its introduction in the 1900 games. It has not always been as popular as other shooting events. In fact, it is only since the games were held in 1960 that the event has been included.
After its first time in 1900, trapshooting made its second appearance in a summer Olympics in 1920 and has been featured ever since. The trap shooting event has been featured in every summer Olympics except for 1948 when the event was not held due to a conflict with the 1948 London Olympics and the 1952 Helsinki Games.
The event has been dominated by United States shooters, with 33 medals out of a possible 35. Italy has the second most gold medals, with five. The most recent trapshooting champion is Kim Rhode, who defended her title in 2012.
Note that while shooters have to stay in one place during matches, trap shooting is still physically and mentally demanding. It’s easy to assume that there isn’t much involved in shooting, but the reality is that it takes a lot of effort.
The shotgun, pistol, and rifle events make up the shooting competitions during the Olympics. The next part covers everything you need to know about shooting at the Olympics.
Olympic trapshooting: A Brief History
The history of Olympic trapshooting events is a long and storied one, dating back to the very first Olympiad in 1896. Since then, trapshooting has been one of the most popular events at the Games, with some of the sport’s biggest names becoming household names in the process.
The first Olympic trapshooting champion was American shooter Frank Houseman, who won gold at the 1896 Games in Athens. Houseman was a dominant force in the sport for years to come, winning gold again at the 1900 Games in Paris.
It wasn’t until the 1912 Games in Stockholm that another American, Oscar Swahn, would take gold in the event. Swahn would go on to win two more gold medals in the 1920 and 1924 Games, making him the most decorated trapshooter in Olympic history.
Since then, American shooters have continued to dominate the event, with trapshooting legends like Annie Oakley, Lones Wigger, and Kim Rhode all winning multiple Olympic gold medals. in recent years, trap shooting has become increasingly popular around the world, with shooters from Italy, China, and Australia all winning medals in the event.
Indian shooters have also had a lot of success in recent years, winning four Olympic medals at three consecutive Olympic events between 2004 and 2012. This includes Abhinav Bindra, who became the nation’s first shooter gold medal winner in Beijing in 2008.
With the 2020 Olympic Games set to take place in Tokyo, it will be interesting to see which shooters will rise to the top and make history in the sport.
Olympic Trapshooting Gun Clubs
In Europe, shooting has been practiced as a pastime for hundreds of years; some German shooting clubs date back more than 500 years.
The founding of the National Rifle Association in 1859, which initially met in Wimbledon, London, and the National Rifle Association (USA), in 1871, contributed to the sport’s recognition in English-speaking nations.
The Olympic program includes 15 different events, grouped into three categories: shotgun, pistol, and rifle. Pistol and rifle competitions normally take place on shooting ranges, where gunners take aim at targets at distances of 10, 25, and 50 meters. As for the shotgun competitions, shooters shoot at clay targets launched in a series of varied angles and directions.
In an effort to broaden the popularity of the sport, the International Shooting Sport Federation introduced a number of new regulations, following the 2012 Summer Olympics.
One of the most noteworthy changes was that in the final, all scores would start again at zero – as opposed to the past where the cumulative qualification rounds and final scores were used to establish final rankings.
With seven Olympic medals apiece in shooting in 2016, Italy and China were the top two countries overall. Italy won 4 gold and 3 silver medals, while China won one gold, 2 silver, and 4 bronze medals. The only American to earn a gold medal was Virginia Thrasher, who took first place in the women’s 10m air rifle event.
In the 2012 London Olympics, at the 50m three-position rifle match, Matt Emmons of the U.S won a bronze, earning his third Olympic medal. He was beaten by Niccolo Campriani of Italy and Jonghyun Kim of South Korea, who took gold and silver medals respectively.
American Kim Rhode took gold in women’s skeet. This was now Rhode’s third gold medal; she also has one silver medal and one bronze prior to this victory. China won seven of the 15 shooting events, including two gold, and led all other nations in the category.
Trapshooting in The Olympics
Beijing Olympics, 2008
In the 50m three-position rifle competition in Beijing in 2008, Matt Emmons once again experienced heartbreak.
The American was once again in contention to win gold, exactly as in 2004, but he pulled the trigger too soon and came in fourth. However, although he didn’t manage to win gold, he did win a silver medal in the men’s 50-meter rifle-prone position event.
Remarkably, his wife Katerina Emmons from the Czech Republic took home a silver medal in the women’s 50m rifle in three positions and gold in the women’s 10m air rifle In the women’s skeet, American Kim Rhode took home a silver medal, earning her fourth consecutive Olympic medal as an individual.
Athens Olympics, 2004
In the 50m three-position rifle final in Athens in 2004, American Matt Emmons was leading the 50m three-position rifle final by three points with only one single shot remaining.
However, he made a startling error that cost him a large lead and eliminated his chances of winning a second gold. Emmons was shooting in lane two but mistakenly fired at the target in lane three, having a three-point advantage, and just needed to go close to the bull’s-eye to win.
Emmons, appearing to be in disbelief, gestured to officials after realizing his target had not been hit. He believed there was a target mistake when no score was recorded. But he was mistaken. Officials conferred before declaring that Emmons had cross-fired, an incredibly uncommon error in top competition, thereby awarding him a score of zero.
As a result, Jia Zhanbo of China won the competition with 1,264.5 points, moving Emmons down to eighth position with 1,257.4 points.
Sydney Olympics, 2000
Franck Dumoulin, a relatively unknown Frenchman who had shot himself in the hand a year before the Olympics and was momentarily confined to a wheelchair following a motorbike accident, recovered from his injuries in time to take the air pistol gold in Sydney.
When American Nancy Johnson was identified as having a mystery nerve disorder that afflicted her arms and legs in 1991, it seemed as though her shooting career was gone.
Fortunately, after a difficult start, Nancy recovered and was able to take part in 1996, and, following some rest, she remained symptom-free for the two years before the 2000 competitions. She unexpectedly won in a thrilling manner, defeating South Korean Kang Cho-Hyun by two-tenths of a point despite not being anticipated to compete for the gold.
Also, a near-perfect Australian shooter, Michael Diamond, who played in front of a raucous home crowd, became the second person to win the trap championship twice. After missing two and one targets, respectively, in the first and second qualifying sessions, he was flawless in his last four, including the final, winning handily with 122 points.
Atlanta Olympics, 1996
In 1996, at just 17 years old, Kim Rhode became the youngest female Olympic champion in shooting – and the only American gold medalist in the sport – when she won the double trap event at the Atlanta Games. Rhode defied her age with composure and accuracy and quickly became a force to be reckoned with in the world of competitive shooting.
Barcelona Olympics, 1992
With four Olympic medals to her name, Jasna Sekaric was one of Yugoslavia’s greatest athletes. She began her Olympic career in Seoul in 1988 winning a bronze medal in sport pistol and a gold medal in air pistol. Sekaric almost missed being the first female shooter to win back-to-back Olympic titles in Barcelona in 1992, but she came in second in the air pistol match due to a tiebreaker.
Seoul Summer Olympics 1988
Malcolm Cooper of Great Britain abstained from alcohol to better prepare for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, where he was aiming to successfully defend his small-bore rifle, three positions gold medal. After defeating his colleague, Alister Allan in the final, Cooper claimed that he was “weary and thirsty” and broke his pre-Olympic abstinence to celebrate.
Los Angeles 1984
In 1984, Matt Dryke from Washington entered the Los Angeles Olympics as the world record holder and favorite in skeet shooting. His background as an entertainer (he used to ride a unicycle and perform rifle tricks) made him a boisterous crowd favorite, which rattled his rivals and helped him take home the gold medal.
Montreal Olympics 1976
In 1976, two Americans, Margaret Murdock and Lanny Bassham were both awarded gold medals for their outstanding performance in the small-bore rifle event at the Montreal Olympic Games.
However, Bassham was not satisfied with the tiebreaker system that had been used to determine the winner and so, during the medal ceremony, he tugged Margaret up onto the top step with him so that they could stand together and receive their medals.
This act of sportsmanship and solidarity was widely praised and it not only showed Bassham’s character but it also helped Murdock make history. Both gained a reputation as two of the greatest athletes of their generation.
Munich Olympics 1972
Li Ho-Jun of North Korea took home the gold in the prone small-bore rifle match. Later, Li tried to retract some remarks where he stated that Kim Il-Sung, (who happened to be their prime minister) had instructed them before they left to fire as though they were engaged in combat with the enemy. That’s exactly what Li did as well.
Melbourne Olympics 1956
At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Gerald Ouellette of Canada was having difficulties with his small-bore rifle during the three-position event. So, he and his teammate Gilmour Boa had to make a quick decision.
They decided that both shooters should use Boa’s firearm for the prone event. As such the compatriots had to finish within the 2-hour, 30-minute time limit. Gilmour Boa was the first to make the shot and he reached his previous world record of 598; then, Ouellette shot 60 consecutive bull’s eyes for a flawless 600. Boa came third whereas Ouellete finished first.
London Olympic 1948
Hungarian army officer Karoly Takacs was grievously injured in 1938 when a grenade exploded in his right hand. Despite the handicap, Takacs learned to shoot left-handed and went on to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in a rapid-fire pistol during the 1948 and 1952 Games.
Paris Olympics 1924
At the 1924 Paris Olympics, Lt. Sidney Hinds’ excellent scores contributed to the U.S. rifle team’s gold-medal victory. Sidney’s achievements were awe-inspiring, considering that he was wounded during the competition when his weapon accidentally discharged as a Belgian opponent next to him was clashing with an official.
In the rapid-fire pistol competition, eight out of the 55 contestants earned perfect scores. Consequently, there had to be shoot-offs in order to determine the Olympic medal winners. They removed competitors one by one, and Henry Bailey of the U.S (who also happened to be a U.S. Marine Sergent) finally got away with the gold after the 7th shoot-off.
Antwerp Olympics 1920
1920 was a big year for Oscar Swahn. Not only did he win his last Olympic medal at the ripe age of 72, but he also managed to set the record for being the oldest medalist in Olympic history.
After his Swedish team came in second place during the running deer double shot contests in Antwerp, Swahn decided to retire with a total of three gold medals, one silver medal, and two bronze medals. His son Alfred went on to win 9 medals between 1908 and 1924.
Paris Olympics 1900
In the 1900 Olympics, live pigeons were used as targets for two shooting competitions. This, however, marks the only time that animals were killed as part of an Olympic event.
American Athletes in Olympic Shooting Events
The Paine brothers, Summer Paine and John Paine were two of the most popular American competitors in the shooting competitions at the 1896 Summer Olympics. They were both the sons of a civil war officer and descended a singer of the Declaration of Independence.
In front of the 40,000 fans jammed into Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium, t Summer Paine and John Paine displayed their shooting prowess, where they made history by being the first Americans to take home a gold medal in a shooting competition. Since then, Americans have been breaking records for their nation and becoming first for their nation.
For the United States, the 1912 Olympics marked a turning point in the development of shooting sports. The first gold medal for the trap in America was won by James R. Graham. He also contributed to the American trap team’s gold-medal victory. Alfred P. Lane made Olympic history by becoming the first American to take home a gold medal in the 30-meter rapid-fire pistol competition.
Margaret Murdock became the first female medalist in a shooting competition in 1976. This was especially groundbreaking given that the men’s and women’s competitions were combined at the time.
In 1964, at the Tokyo Olympics, Lones Wigger became the first American to take home a gold medal in the 50-meter free rifle competition. Later, in 1992, Launi Meili became the first American woman to take home a gold medal in the 50-meter free rifle competition.
The first American to win a gold medal in the skeet event was Matthew Dryke in 1984. Since then, Vincent Hancock has set an Olympics record by winning three gold medals. Kim Rhode was the first American to win a gold medal in the women’s skeet event in 2012 in London.
In the skeet competition in 1984, Matthew Dryke became the first American to take home a gold medal. Vincent Hancock has since then, loomed the competition and won 3 gold Olympic medals, setting an Olympic record.
In the year 2012 in London, Kim Rhode became the youngest female champion and the first American to win a gold medal in the women’s skeet competition.
When the women’s 10-meter air rifle competition was added to the 1984 Olympic shooting events lineup, Pat Spurgin became the first competitor to take home a gold medal.
Types of Events in Olympic shooting
There were only five shooting events when the sport made its debut at the Athens 1896 Olympic Games. However, the sport has since gained prominence at the Olympics. In fact, there were 15 rifle, pistol, and shotgun events at Tokyo 2020 Games, with competitions for both men and women.
Rifle Shooting Events and Rules
The rifle shooting event is where competitors shoot a target with ten concentric circles at a predetermined distance. The competition is further broken down into; 10m Air Rifle and 50m Rifle 3 Positions.
10m Air Rifle
The 10m Air Rifle event features 60 shots fired at the target from a standing position only, within a time limit of one hour and 15 minutes for all shooters. It also features a combined team event comprised of one man and one woman.
Every team compatriot makes 40 shots at the target within fifty minutes in the qualification turn. The eight highest-scoring shooters then advance to the final medal round, where they shoot an additional 10 shots.
50M Rifle Three Positions
In this event, athletes can fire their 50-meter rifles from three distinct stances: prone, kneeling, and standing. Each competitor fires forty shots in each of the three stated positions, within the allotted 2 hours and 45 minutes. The medal round is then advanced to the top eight scorers.
Pistol Shooting Events and Rules
There are three subcategories in pistol shooting events: 10m Air Pistol, 25m Pistol, and 25m Rapid Fire Pistol. Athletes must use just one hand (unsupported) to shoot in this situation.
Starting with the 10M Air Pistol, the regulations for this event are identical to those for the 10m Air Rifle. There are categories for males, females, and mixed teams.
Prior to the top eight moving on to the medal round, shooters in the solo categories must complete 60 shots in a time limit of one hour and fifteen minutes. Every team member makes 40 shots during the mixed team competition, and then the top five teams compete for overall honors.
The 25m Rapid Fire Pistol is a male’s only event. It requires shooters to make consecutive shots at short intervals of 8, 6, and 4 seconds. There are 2 rounds of 30 shots each in the qualification round. The top eight competitors are then advanced to the medal round.
The 25m Pistol event is a female’s-only competition. It has two qualifying rounds of 30 shots each, just like the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol competition.
Shotgun Shooting Events and Rules
Trap and skeet shooting are two shotgun competitions where shooters shoot at clay targets (usually 10 cm in diameter) and move at a speed of over 100 kph. While both events incorporate the males and females category, trap shooting also includes a mixed team competition, where trap men and women take part in the performance.
Skeet shooting generally involves men and skeet women firing at clay targets from 8 varied positions, commonly known as “stations”.
These targets are launched from two spots (commonly known as a trap house), one on the right and another on the left side of the shooting range. Each shooter makes 25 shots in 5 rounds over 3 days. After that, the 6 highest scorers qualify to take part in the medal round.
To sum up, shooting has been a popular discipline at the Olympic Games and as mentioned before, it is one of the inaugural nine sports contested in Athens in 1896.
Although it wasn’t featured at St Louis 1904 as well as Amsterdam 1928 Olympic events, it has been incorporated in all other Summer Games and just about every Olympic programme. Moreover, respective contests for women were introduced in 1984 in Los Angeles.
We hope this article has been able to provide interesting moments from the history of the sport and has even inspired you to learn more about your own favorites!