I’m going for gold in Rio- Morgan Craft

Gold Medalist Morgan Craft of the US competes in the Skeet Women Finals at the Nicosia Olympic Shooting Range during Day 4 of the ISSF World Cup Shotgun on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Nicolo Zangirolami)

Morgan Craft is the World Champion Skeet Shooter from US. She’s already earned a 2016 Rio Olympic Team nomination in September 2015, World Championship gold & silver at Lonato ISSF Shotgun World Championship 2015. She recently had Skeet Women Gold in the finals of ISSF World Cup Shotgun 2016 held at Nicosia. She talked with us on her international career, world cup performance & about skeet shooting. Here is an excerpt:

It is said that a sportsperson is as good as her/his training. How correct is this statement when we talk about shooting? How do you train yourself to be game ready?

I couldn’t agree more with that statement.

There is so much to be learned from a good training regimen. I try to train for multiple, various situations that could occur during a match.

I train in the cold, rain, and wind. I constantly challenge myself; whether that means mentally being harder on myself, trying to hit a target better, standing on one foot, having my partner scream and wave to distract me, you name it….anything to make myself a tougher competitor. I don’t stand on one station and pound out several stations worth of shots, or just constantly shoot one textbook round after another. I have a structured plan that has room for flexibility. I shoot in between stations, around and behind the stations, I shoot targets faster and I shoot targets slower than I normally do. I am always looking to gain confidence in myself that wherever the target is, as long as my eyes lock onto it, my hands and gun will go there too. My partner, Nick Boerboon, and I also try and push each other competitively while practicing shootoffs and finals.

It’s also training you do off the field, not only the shots put down range. I have incorporated a lot of visualizations and positive affirmations into my training.
While competing I want to look back on my training and know that I did everything that I could to prepare myself so that I could perform to the best of my abilities.

How tough is skeet compared to other disciplines in shooting sport?

I’ve never shot doubles trap or bunker trap competitively, so I can’t say which one is “tougher,” however, I believe the mount in international skeet is one of the toughest aspects compared to other disciplines.

Mounting your gun to the same exact place on your face 100% of the time is not an easy feat.

Initial motivation and distinguishable phases of your career…

I grew up with a love of hunting and cherishing the outdoors thanks to my family. My parents are filled with passion for whatever they love. My dad and grandparents were instructors in a local youth program called “4H”. I began shooting .22 rifles when I was about 7 or 8 years old and then moved up to shotgun shooting as soon as I was old enough. American trap was a thrill for me but when I saw International Skeet for the first time, it just looked much more challenging, and I instantly fell in love with it. My entire life, it seems, I’ve loved a good challenge.
The first of a few more distinguishable moments in my career would be when I won my first SCTP (scholastic clay target program) national championships. That was a big stepping-stone for me as a young shooter. When I went on to qualify for my open women’s final while I was still a young junior, that was memorable because it began to give me the confidence that even as a junior I could compete with the “big dogs” of the US. Lastly, my first international open medal in Cyprus in 2015 was important to me because, again, it gave me a boost of confidence in that I could compete against the best women in the world.

Facilities & Resources availability in US…

Most of the facilities in the USA are great. There isn’t as many as we would like, but the sport is definitely growing and the venues along with it. I think more than the facilities, the coaching in the US is top notch. We couldn’t ask for more experienced and knowledgeable coaches.

There are only two or three ranges in the entire nation that are even capable of holding a World Cup, so I believe I can speak for everyone when I say that we wish we could gain a few more larger facilities around the country.

How difficult is to maintain the level of game over the years considering the fact that Shooting is a sport based on concentration & endurance?

It is not an easy task, but I feel that is one reason why shooting is an Olympic sport, it is not meant to be easy. I learned a lot of my concentration and focus skills from getting some competition experience under my belt. It is crucial to not push yourself TOO hard and not go full out on 100% every single day. It’s about balance. In my training I have weeks where I train very hard and put a lot of shots down range and then as I get closer to a competition, I taper off and don’t shoot quite as many shells. I’ve gotten to the point in my career where it is quality over quantity.
It is also important to make time for yourself. At one point I was balancing college schoolwork, an internship, a work study job, a relationship, and training for shooting all at the same time. I learned that it is important to manage your time well and remember to have time to reflect on yourself and the life happening around you.

How does a good infrastructure support in game readiness of a shooter?

I don’t believe we have any advanced public shotgun shooting ranges here in the US. Typically the only place we use speakers and electronic score boards is overseas. So I don’t have much experience with that.

How do you rate the availability of equipment in US? How do you rate the cost part involved therein?

For the most part, equipment is reasonably accessible in the United States. International ammunition and targets are a little harder to find and purchase than American targets and hunting ammunition, but it is certainly still possible.

There are not a ton of companies that produce shooting vests, but again it isn’t difficult to find them and purchase them. Higher end shotguns like Krieghoffs or Perazzis are typically not found in an average gun shop, so finding a dealer to purcahse a shotgun, that is going to withstand the amount of practice and training we do, at is a little harder, but nothing a couple phone calls can take care of.
There’s no doubt that shooting is a financially demanding sport. Several families have to be willing to give up a lot of their time and money to participate in Olympic shooting. They have to be willing to fundraise, work, apply for scholarships, and do everything they can to afford training and travel costs.

Hurdles faced with in career…

One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome and still struggle with some today is perfectionism.

I always wanted to be perfect. I couldn’t understand after all these years and all the rounds down range, why I would still miss. I finally learned it’s about being excellent, not perfect. I was always focused on outcome and so outcome oriented. The truth of the matter is, you cannot control the outcome of a competition; you can only control you and your process.
Learning to trust myself and to trust my training took me several years also. I always doubted my abilities and did not have a large amount of confidence in myself. That was such a big hurdle that I’m happy I conquered!

Memorable performances…

One performance I will never forget occurred in May 2012 at the Olympic trials in Tucson, Arizona. I had a very good match overall and going into the third and final day of the match I had my first encounter with food poisoning. I was awake half of the night, getting sick and having tremendous stomach pains. The final day I pushed through the sickness the best I could, having to hold myself together on the field was easier said than done! I ended up winning the Olympic trials and was named the Olympic team alternate because at that time, Kim Rhode had already secured the one and only Olympic team spot.

Another great memory was the 2015 World Championships, not because I won, but because of the conditions I shot in and how well I handled my nerves.

The first round of the day I was so nervous. I was shaking and my heart rate was through the roof. I had to really focus on keeping my mind occupied, staying positive, and relax by controlling my breathing. As we shot our second round the wind picked up and was blowing non-stop. There were large gusts of wind that made the targets dance and go all over the place. I was proud of myself for focusing on every target and finishing that round with a 24. The third and final round it was pouring down rain. We had to take a break during the round because it was raining so hard that it affected the ability of the speakers to pick up our voices. I was so far ‘in the zone’ those last two rounds, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Then to end up in the gold medal round with no one other than my own teammate, Caitlin Connor, was just so overwhelmingly awesome. We took team gold AND tied the world record. I felt so much pride for our country that day.

Future aspirations and career targets…

Right now in my professional career, I am applying for a master’s degree in physician assistant studies. I’m so beyond excited to be pursuing a career in health care where I can practice medicine and help people be better and healthier versions of themselves.
As far as my shooting career goes, some of my goals between now and the Olympics include: gain more experience by competing once a month, make a medal round at the Rio World Cup, and to slowly improve every month so I can peak at the Rio Olympic Games. I’m going for gold in Rio!

Next target…

World championship gold was amazing, now it’s time to go for that Olympic Games gold.

Message to youngsters with regards to shooting-skeet as a sport…

It is so crucial to always persevere. There were a hand full of times that I just put too much pressure on myself and when I wouldn’t come home with a medal I felt like such a failure. However, I always trudged on, even when I thought there wasn’t any hope left for me, because I wanted that Olympic team spot so badly. Looking back, and even today in my current shooting, it is important to me that I learn a lesson from every competition I compete in.

I would encourage all young shooters to write down their thoughts and lessons learned, it will truly help in the long run.

(Olympic and international skeet is one of the ISSF shooting events. In Olympic skeet, there is a random delay of between 0 to 3 seconds after the shooter has called for the target. Also, the shooter must hold his gun so that the buttstock is at mid-torso level until the target appears).

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