Vincent Hancock remembers the tunnel being pitch black as Team USA readied to march into the Bird’s Nest during the opening ceremonies at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. I’m standing behind the flag bearer and I remember looking up at the flag and it goes from pitch black to nothing but super bright red, white and blue. It was amazing.
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All of a sudden, you’re walking into the stadium and you feel the electricity. People slowly start chanting, ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’ It gets louder and louder and louder. It’s unreal. That feeling is why I want to go back to the Olympics again and again and again. Those powerful feelings felt during the opening ceremonies were even more memorable than actually winning a gold medal, Hancock. The Fort Worth resident would know, too, after winning consecutive Olympic gold medals as the world’s best skeet shooter in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London.
He participated, but didn’t medal, at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. What’s it like getting a gold medal hung around your neck? It’s a dream come true Hancock, a former sergeant in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. “Listening to the National Anthem play is just a surreal feeling and a rush of emotions. It’s the culmination of your life’s work. But the greatest experience is the opening ceremonies, walking in with Team USA.”
Hancock, who turned 31 on Thursday, is hopeful to experience his fourth opening ceremony this summer in Tokyo. He qualified to represent Team USA in men’s skeet for the fourth straight Games earlier this month at the shotgun trials in Tucson, Arizona. So did a couple of other members of USA Shooting who carry on to train and get ready for the Games at Fort Worth Trap & Skeet. Austen Smith, an 18-year-old from Keller, is set to make her first appearance in the Olympic after qualifying in women’s skeet.
Brian Burrows, a 32-year-old Californian who recently relocated to Denton, is also set to participate in his first Olympic as a trap shooter. But the coronavirus pandemic has put the Games in jeopardy of being postponed or possibly canceled. USA Swimming and USA Track & Field, as well as Norway’s and Brazil’s national Olympic committees, are notable entities who have all called for the Games to be postponed to 2021 in recent days.
That’s a reality all three shooters — and all of the Team USA delegation — are facing in the coming weeks. For now, though, they have to train as though the Games will take place as scheduled. We’ve been given the direction to be careful, be safe, but also prepare, Hancock. I’m praying it’s not a cancellation. If anything, it might be postponed. But I hope nothing happens. I hope it stays the same. I continue to train like it’s going to stay the same just because we never know. God willing, I’ll be ready to go back and get another gold.
The same can be said for Smith and Burrows. Both have taken unlikely journeys to reach the Olympic. Smith started shooting competitively six years ago and has risen quickly in the sport. To qualify for the Tokyo Olympic earlier this month, she beat out respected veterans such as six-time Olympian Kim Rhode (who has won six Olympic medals). It was an extremely close match. We had six women who could’ve made the team.
You’d think it’d be nerve-wracking, but it just drove me to do better. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. He retired from competitive trapshooting in 2016, believing he’d never reach the Olympic. Countries have to qualify for spots in the respective disciplines and the United States failed to qualify for men’s trap at the 2012 and 2016 Games.
But Burrows returned to competitive shooting in 2018. He started winning events and making podiums, ultimately helping the United States to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic in men’s trap by winning the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. He then qualified for the team in a tight battle at the trials earlier this month.