LONDON – Intense competitors, both Eric Hollen (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Josh Olson (Spokane, Wash.) certainly desired better results in the end. But as the shooting competition came to a close today at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and the Royal Artillery Barracks, success can't be measured by medals alone.
Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Movement, once stated that "the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well." Hollen and Olsonproved that the same holds true more than 118 years later as their participation at the Games showcased ability over disability and simply by virtue of their participation they'll leave an indelible impact on the shooting sports and more so the lives of many more.
Hollen rolled off the line Thursday with a 23rd-place finish in the 50-meter Free Pistol event after a round of 499/600. He finished in 14th place in the air pistol event earlier in the Games.
It hasn't been many years since a tractor accident stripped him of his ability to walk leaving him depressed, panicked and alone - a shadow of his old self as a former Ranger in the U.S. Army. Sport, shooting and the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs changed all that.
Rehabilitated, Hollen feels a deeper appreciation for life and is thankful for the opportunities that his paralysis has provided him. His daughter, a rising star in the alpine ski world, trains alongside Hollen every afternoon in Colorado Springs. And for Hollen, the conquest to be among the shooting elite has only just begun.
"The experience was great," Hollen said. "I learned a lot about managing expectations, and I am very proud to have had this opportunity to represent my country in such an honorable way. I hope to inspire other injured veterans to find success in the competitive arena. There is just nothing in the world like this--the pressure, the opportunity, the process. It's all been an amazing journey to this point and now we can start to prepare for Rio 2016."
Defending champion Park Seakyun produced a superb performance to reclaim his title. The Republic of Korea shooter delivered a strong closing series, producing final shots of 10.4 and 10.3 to win with a total of 642.4 points. It marked his second gold medal of London 2012 after victory in the men's P1-10m Air Pistol - SH1. Russian Valery Ponomarenko took silver with 633.2 points while Ni Hedong of China shot to bronze (625.3).
Olson meanwhile finished 28th in the Mixed 10m Prone Air Rifle event and followed that up with a 12th place finish in Mixed 50m Prone Rifle. Nine years ago a rocket-propelled grenade nearly claimed Olson's live after being struck by it while on patrol with his unit (101st Airborne division third brigade 1/187) in Afghanistan. While it did take his right leg, it certainly didn't strip him of his will, motivation and commitment to his country.
For the first active duty soldier ever to compete in the Paralympic Games, the bigger picture, as the U.S. Army so aptly put it after his event, was this: "he has blazed a trail for all wounded warriors who think they may be down--they are not. They can find themselves representing their country once again on the world's grandest stage for Paralympians."
As they travel back home, we salute our Paralympic athletes for blazing a trail that will leave a lasting impact on the shooting sports. In all, 22 athletes representing USA Shooting and the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams went to London this summer and have returned with a collection of medals, a lifetime of memories while representing the very best of what the shooting sports has to offer.