FORT BENNING, Ga. — Darlington native Michael McPhail will be heading to London this summer to take a shot at bringing home an Olympic medal.
McPhail, a Staff Sergeant from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU), qualified for his first Olympic games following a stellar three-day performance at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials held on his home range at Fort Benning on June 2-5.
McPhail won the U.S. Olympic Team Trial match for Men’s 50-meter Rifle Prone, scoring 2002.8 match points to hold off two-time Olympic medalist Matt Emmons by just a 3.8-point margin of victory as Emmons finished with 1999 points over three courses of fire and two weighted finals.
“I’ve been working at this for a real long time, so this feels good,” said McPhail in a press release. “I have had a lot of people help me along the way. I can’t tell you how many it takes to make an Olympian.”
McPhail, the son of Dennis and Joyce McPhail of Darlington, lives in Phoenix City, Ala., with his wife, Kari, who is a graduate of Black Hawk High School.
McPhail began shooting at the age of 16 at the Darlington Rifle Club. After graduating from high school in 2000, McPhail attended UW-Oshkosh briefly before enlisting in the Army and joining the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning.
Since 2006, McPhail has earned five gold medals, three silver medals and five bronze medals in the numerous national and international events he has competed in for the U.S.A.
Coming off a bronze medal-winning performance at the London World Cup and a fourth-place finish at the Milan World Cup, the stage was set for McPhail to continue his outstanding shooting and nail down an Olympic team berth at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
After starting the match off with a blistering 599 in the qualification round on June 2 and following it with a world-class score of 105.4 in the first day’s final, McPhail established himself as the man to beat from the very beginning.
“It doesn’t hurt to go into the Olympic Trials with quite a bit of confidence,” said McPhail. “The first day I really made a point to go out there and just do my job. After that I knew I was in front but I didn’t look at the scoreboard at all. I did well just staying in the moment, taking it shot by shot.”
Emmons, the 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist and world record holder in the event, and Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker, McPhail’s teammate and a three-time Olympian himself, came back on the second day and put pressure on McPhail, outshooting him by a few points but not enough to put a significant dent in his lead.
On the third day, McPhail slammed the door on anyone else contemplating making a serious run on his Olympic dream. Despite Emmons tying the national record with a perfect 600, McPhail posted a 598 then settled into the final knowing a solid score would secure his trip to England.
A relieved and excited McPhail stood up off the mat after taking the final shot of the match and was immediately swarmed with congrats from fellow competitors, observers and several of his USAMU brethren, signaling to him that he had made the team.
“When you work your entire adult life for something, I really wanted this one—bad,” McPhail said. “The first thing I felt was relief. It’s easy for people to say ‘he should win’ but when you are going up against my teammates from the unit and an Olympic Gold Medalist and world record holder, it’s anything but easy.”
McPhail will compete against and alongside USAMU teammate Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft. Uptagrafft, who qualified for the games in 2011 after earning enough points in World Cup competition, is thrilled to have his friend and teammate along for the wild ride that is the Olympics.
“I feel more relieved than anything and a little bit content right now,” said McPhail. “ I’ve really changed how I was shooting the last couple of years and without the support of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit there’s no way I’d ever be in this position. The biggest thing I started doing was working together with Eric Uptagraft and we’re both shooting right now better than we’ve ever shot. It’s easier having someone with the same ability level to go out and train with every day. With the depth of the men’s prone team you can’t have anything bad happen. You can’t have an off day.”
McPhail is now the sixth Soldier from the unit who will shoot for gold in London. Besides himself and Uptagrafft, shotgun shooters Staff Sgt. Josh Richmond and Sgts. Glenn Eller and Vincent Hancock will represent the Army and U.S. at the Olympics. Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson will compete in the Paralympics.
“Yeah, six guys are going, but it took the entire unit to get us there,” McPhail said. “It shows how good the unit is. It stems from the commander all the way down to the lowest private. Our gunsmiths are truly world-class and they give us a huge advantage. And I am confident we aren’t done yet. I think we are going to put another Soldier on the team.”
Emmons will also compete in London, however, having already secured his position in the Men’s Three-Position and Air Rifle events.
The 2012 Summer Olympics Games will be held in and around London from Friday, July 27, through Sunday, Aug. 12.
Qualifications and finals in McPhail’s 50m Rifle Prone shooting event will be held on Friday, Aug. 3, at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, south east of London.