The precision and sporter champions approached the firing line for The American Legion’s 26th annual Junior 3-Position National Air Rifle Championship in first place with a combined 30-point lead over the next competitor in line. Both girls held their position to win their first Legion air rifle national title and set records in the process.
Taylor Gibson of Salem, Ore., captured the precision title with an overall score of 2,476.7, and set the Legion’s national record for a precision final score of 104.7. And Emma Thompson of Freeport, Ill., captured the sporter title with an overall score of 2,365.1, and set the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and the Legion’s national record for sporter individual three-position score of 575-24x.
Gibson and Thompson both received a $5,000 scholarship provide by the Legion and Sons of The American Legion.
The top eight finalists in both the precision and sporter category shot 10 times in the standing position for the final round of the competition inside the USA Shooting Range at the Olympic Training Center Saturday morning. Thompson had a significant point lead over her competitors coming into the finals but that wasn’t the same for 15-year-old Gibson – there was only a four-point difference between the top five precision shooters. With nerves peaking, Gibson mentally prepared by imagining she shot a 10 each time, which she did to maintain her first-place status going into the competition.
“I was just going through the match in my head; I wanted to focus on the mental part because shooting is 90 percent mental,” Gibson said. “So (before the competition) I was standing without my rifle and going through each individual shot and my shot process; imagining shooting a 10 each time. I’ve never shot finals like that before, so it was really cool. That was definitely the best I’ve ever done.”
Gibson realized at the ninth shot that she had a chance of claiming the precision title and “got teary eyed, I can do this,” she said. “I had never done anything this big before.”
Gibson’s father, Rob, put a BB gun in her hands at the young age of 5, shooting bottle caps in their backyard, and realized she had a chance of going far with the sport. After a hiatus, Gibson picked up the sport two years ago with the Colonel Allison Junior Rifle Club. She initially said no to joining the club because she thought shooting was “boring.” But her father made her at least try it, and it only “took the one time,” Rob said.
Gibson’s goal is to go to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and the Legion’s competition has given her the confidence in her shooting ability to achieve her dreams.
“Coming here definitely made me realize you have to have confidence; I’ve always doubted myself,” Gibson said. “But I got here, I won, and I set a (personal record), and I never thought I could. I’ve gained a lot of confidence through this match.”
For the 16-year-old Thompson, making it to the Legion’s national air rifle competition “has been a lot of hard work, and it’s a big milestone winning the (sporter) competition,” she said. “It’s a big reward for working so hard and pushing myself to get here.”
Thompson joined her high school’s air rifle club with a friend and realized she had talent with shooting when she went to competitions as a freshman and sophomore in high school that only upper-class competitors were attending. She credits her success to her coach and team, and her determination and hard work.
“Shooting take a lot of determination and hard work and a lot of practicing - just not giving up in practice,” she said. “Knowing to get to the better place in shooting or to progress you need to put in the hard work.”
When asked what she thinks about 24 out of the 30 air rifle competitors being girls, Thompson said, “it means that anybody can do it. It’s not a single-gender sport. Whoever has the determination to practice and get to a good point, it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, it doesn’t matter if you’re strong, it doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short. It’s just all of what you have inside of you.”
All 30 of the Legion’s air rifle competitors agree that the program creates a family environment, and you leave with new friends. It’s true for precision shooters Samantha Peterson of Ham Lake, Minn., and Kayla Gadeken of Seward, Neb., who were both top-eight finalists and met two years at the competition as sporter shooters. They will be roommates come this fall at the University of Nebraska and will compete on the air rifle team.
“This competition shows you how supportive The American Legion is of shooting,” Peterson said. “You are connected to everybody who is out here. This match brings you closer to people.”
Gadeken agreed. “You come out here, and you’re treated like superstars,” she said. “It’s just an honor to be here and shoot amongst the top shooters in The American Legion.”
Final competition results and scores are:
Taylor Gibson – Colonel Allison Junior Rifle Club of Salem, Ore.; 2,476.7
Sarah Osborn – Patriot Shooting Club of Hampton, Va.; 2,470.6
Elizabeth Lorentz – Hellgate Junior Civilian Shooters in Seeley Lake, Mont.; 2,469.2
Samantha Peterson – Minnesota Centershots in Ham Lake, Minn.; 2,468.3
Mark Amdahl - Eldorado High School MCJROTC in Albuquerque, N.M.; 2,466.5
Wyatt Openshaw – Seitzland Rifle Team in Parkton, Md.; 2,462.2
Andre Gross – Webster Junior Marksmen in Ontario, N.Y.; 2,461.3
Kayla Gadeken – 10X 4H Club in Seward, Neb.; 2,452.8
Emma Thompson – Freeport High School NJROTC in Freeport, Ill.; 2,365.1
Gabrielle Phelps – Gulfport High School MCJROTC in Gulfport, Miss.; 2,341.8
Shauntae Daily – Dead Eye Shooters in Dix, Neb.; 2,320.8
Lexis Smith – Des Moines North MCJROTC in Iowa; 2,314
Lara Lewis – Lebanon High School JROTC in Lebanon, Ore.; 2,286.6
Jacie Hoenig – Zion Bention High School NJROTC in Winthrop Harbor, Ill.; 2285.4
Jonna Warnken – Mineral County 4H Shooting Sports in Superior, Mont.; 2,269
Jimmy Ellefson – Des Moines North MCJROTC in Iowa; 2,266.2
A $1,000 scholarship, provided by the Auxiliary, was also awarded to the second-place precision shooter Sarah Osborn of Hampton, Va., and second-place sporter shooter Gabrielle Phelps of Gulfport, Miss. Gibson and Thompson will attend The American Legion’s national convention in Cincinnati Aug. 26-30 and be honored alongside other Legion youth program champions.