LONDON, ENG – Darlington native Michael McPhail narrowly missed a shot at earning a medal in his Olympic debut at the 2012 London Games after finishing ninth overall in the Men’s 50-Meter Prone Rifle competition held at the Royal Artillery Barracks in southeast London on Friday, Aug. 3.
McPhail, 30, a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU), shot a 595 in the qualifying round to finish in a nine-way tie for fourth-place.
He was sitting third in qualifications until he scored a nine on his 57th shot of the round. With a 10 on that shot, he probably would have advanced to the finals.
Battling changing winds and differing lighting conditions during the 75-minute round, McPhail put 55 of his 60 qualifying shots in the 10-point ring and 39 of those in the bull’s-eye. (The 10-point ring is roughly the size of a person’s cornea and the bull’s-eye is the size of a pupil.) He had one perfect 100 string (set of 10 shots), and five strings where he scored a 99 during the round.
Sergei Martynov of Belarus matched a world record with a perfect 600 score in qualifying. Belguim’s Lionel Cox followed with a 599 round and Slovenia’s Rajmond Debevec finished third at 596.
“I think the wind was a huge factor,” McPhail told the Journal Sentinel. “I didn’t point a nine all day and I’m down five points. My gun didn’t shoot a nine. The wind pushed me out. It was subtle.”
“I tell you what, shooting a 599 or 600 today, that’s pretty hard to do. As a fan of the sport, I’m thoroughly impressed.”
The nine fourth-place shooters faced off in a five-shot shoot-out to decide the remaining five berths in the finals. In the shoot-off, the target ring gets divided into tenths with the best score possible on a single shot being 10.9. Each shot is scored to the first decimal.
McPhail not only put all five shots inside the 10-ring in the shoot-out, he averaged 10.26 points per shot for a total score of 51.3. Unfortunately, that score left him just 3/10ths of a point out of a possible finals berth as he finished sixth in the shoot-out behind India’s Joydeep Karmakar and Croatia’s Bojan Durkovic, who each shot a 51.6 to earn the last two finalist spots.
“I’m not disappointed with how I shot,” McPhail told www.usashooting.org. “Of the 65 shots that I had, there’s maybe only one that I’d want to shoot again. Shooting’s no different than any other sport. If you want to be Super Bowl champion or Olympic champion you have to get the bounce and it didn’t bounce in my favor today.”
According to USAMU’s Michael Molinaro, the difference of .3 of a point in the event amounts to about two millimeters of space on the target.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow. But these guys are strong-willed. They’re the best at what they do,” Molinaro was quoted in the Journal Sentinel. “This is Mike’s first Olympics, so this will just fuel his fire. Absolutely, he’ll be back.”
McPhail was the top American finisher in the event after Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft, who works with McPhail as an USAMU shooting instructor at Fort Benning, Ga., placed 14th overall with a score of 594.
Martynov kept up his outstanding shooting in the finals, firing a 105.5 during the 10-shot round to take home the gold medal with a new Olympic record total score of 705.5.
Cox registered a score of 102.2 to Debevec’s 105.0 in the finals, but Cox held on for the silver medal with a combined score of 701.2 and Debevec captured the bronze medal with a score of 701.0. Karmakar was fourth with a 699.1.
“It’s just surreal,” McPhail told the JS. “You know, for a lot of people this is the biggest thing that will ever happen in their life. It’s cool just to be a part of that.”