US shooters competing with Aurora in mind
LONDON (AP) — USA Shooting is based in Colorado Springs, Colo., about an hour's drive from the site of the movie theater massacre.
Yes, that's very much on the mind of the American shooting team at the London Games.
Shooting sports get barely any mainstream attention in the United States except during the Olympics. Even then, it's nominal at best.
So far in London, American shooters have won two gold medals. But since the team arrived questions have kept coming about Aurora, Colo., and the rampage on July 20 that left 12 dead and 58 others wounded. Along with that is the renewed debate about gun control in the country.
At the Olympic shooting venue, it's a particularly sensitive topic. American shooters in London are hoping success on their sport's biggest stage can serve as a reminder of what they find so compelling about their game.
"There always is something positive," said Kim Rhode, the Olympic women's skeet champion and first U.S. athlete to win an individual medal in five straight Olympics.
"I mean, shooting is something that teaches responsibility, discipline, focus," she added. "And this is a sport and it's sad when those lines get blurred with media and news, with someone that was obviously very disturbed. And, you know, hopefully we just continue on the positive path and just keep showing and teaching others."
Swimming gold medalist Missy Franklin, a Colorado native, said she remains rattled by the shootings. U.S. rower Taylor Ritzel was raised in Aurora, and hearing what happened left her "devastated." For USA Shooting, what happened in that midnight showing of the latest Batman film hit particularly close to home.
"It's unfortunate when a tragedy like this happens and society immediately creates a link to the shooting sports and to sportsmen and enthusiasts in general," USA Shooting spokesman Kevin Neuendorf said. "The 20 USA Shooting athletes (in London) represent class and distinction in every way. They weep for the victims and pray for their families. In times of tragedy, it's important to remember that there is no correlation."
Those who came to the London Games from Colorado say they're not just representing their country at this Olympics, but their state as well.
"I will do everything in my power to make Colorado proud," Ritzel said.
"Every single race I'm going to have that Colorado incident back on my mind," Franklin said earlier in the Olympics.
Colorado prosecutors charged suspect James Holmes with 24 counts of murder, two each for the 12 people killed, and 116 counts of attempted murder, two each for the 58 injured. The multiple counts for each victim creates more options during sentencing, if he's convicted.
Vincent Hancock of the U.S. won his second straight Olympic gold medal in skeet on Tuesday. Like most competitive shooters, he bristles at the comparison between what's senseless and what's sport.
"It is one of the safest sports in the world," Hancock said. "We have less injuries than table tennis. This is a really safe sport."
President Barack Obama noted last week the tradition of gun ownership passed through generations. He called things like hunting and shooting "part of a cherished national heritage."
"Unfortunately, people do make the connection with our sport because we use firearms," said Matt Emmons, a two-time Olympic shooting medalist for the U.S. "Our sport is safety first. It's very, very rare you come across anyone extreme, and it's a shame these incidents reflect on us.
"The fact that something like this always comes back to us is a shame," Emmons added. "Some of the nicest, most gentle and respectful people I know shoot."
Federal lawmakers have introduced a bill that would bar anyone from buying large amounts of ammunition by mail or online; the Colorado suspect got 6,000 rounds online. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is supporting tougher gun control, and comparisons have been drawn to the 1999 Columbine shootings, the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and last year's Tucson shooting that killed six and seriously injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
"Yes, they've chosen a livelihood in which a firearm is a necessity and absolutely value the freedom that provides them that opportunity," Neuendorf said, referring to U.S. shooters. "But putting them in the same boat is disrespectful and a slap in the face for the respect they have for their craft."