Gabriel has Olympic dream in her sights

Sharp-shooter earns spot on U.S. Olympic Development Team

Staff Writer

Casey Gabriel, whose family is originally from Milltown, has made a name for herself at the age of 16 in the sport of shooting, earning a spot on the United States Olympic Development Team following eye-opening showings at recent national competitions.Casey Gabriel, whose family is originally from Milltown, has made a name for herself at the age of 16 in the sport of shooting, earning a spot on the United States Olympic Development Team following eye-opening showings at recent national competitions.

Sharp-shooter earns spot on U.S. Olympic Development Team


Staff Writer

To say that 16-year-old Casey Gabriel is a straight-shooter is an understatement of grand proportions.

When she has a rifle in her hands, the Flemington resident, whose family hails from Milltown, is so adept at hitting her target that she has earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Developmental Team, and is well on her way toward becoming an Olympian in a sport that few people know anything about.

And all of this after only three years of shooting experience.

Gabriel competes in two different forms of Olympic rifle competitions — the international air rifle and the three-position rifle. Her ability to excel in both categories lends credence to her mother’s belief that she simply found her calling.

"I’ve introduced my daughter to a wide variety of sports, including swimming, horseback riding, and golf," said Casey’s mom, J.T. Gabriel. "And she’s good at all of them. She shoots in the 80s in golf, and played on the boys team at her high school before playing on the school’s inaugural girls team this year."

But while athletic success has become the norm for Casey, no one expected her to find the type of success she’s met in shooting.

"My mom asked me a couple of times if I wanted to try it, and I kept saying no," she said. "Then one day I tried it and fell in love with it."

"We saw a picture of a young lady in the newspaper holding her rifle and talking about her accomplishments," J.T. added. "She happened to be Casey’s [current] coach’s daughter. Once she saw the picture, she decided to try it."

Casey said that the challenge of the sport is part of what attracts her to the competition.

"There are a lot of things you can work towards, and I like to be able to say I’m good at something," she said.

As for the reaction to her shooting, Casey said her friends and classmates are supportive of her success.

"They find it pretty cool," she said. "I’ve never got a negative response to it."

That does not mean that her friends share her enthusiasm for the sport.

"It’s something I went in on on my own," she said. "I’ve brought friends to the [Somerset Junior Rifle Club — where she trains], but they didn’t take to it. It takes the right kind of person. A lot of people find it boring."

The sport itself is very demanding, both physically and mentally, which is why J.T. thinks her daughter has done so well.

"She’s very dedicated, and it takes quite a bit of dedication," the proud mom said. "The kids actually learn to shoot between heartbeats."

Gabriel began to earn her spot on the U.S. Developmental Team back in May, when she turned heads at the Olympic Trials at Fort Benning, Ga.

"We went down there for the experience," J.T. said. "Casey has been pointing towards the 2008 Olympics, and I said, ‘You should go down there so that when you do face them for real, you won’t be as nervous.’

"Well, she shot shoulder-to-shoulder with Olympians and came in 10th in the nation in the air rifle. She made a final, and finished among the best of the best."

Following her strong showing in May, they made the trip back to Fort Benning in June for the 2004 National Championships, which also attracted the top shooters in the nation. Once again, Casey impressed, taking home the bronze medal in both the Junior Women’s 50-meter Three-Position Rifle competition (with a score of 1,223.6) and the Junior Women’s 10-meter Air Rifle competition (877.3)

In the air rifle competition, which joined the Olympic program in 1984, competitors stand and shoot lead pellets from .177-caliber guns at targets 10 meters away. The bull’s eye, or 10-ring, is one-half millimeters wide — the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

The rifles can be either air- or gas-powered and weigh up to 12 pounds by international regulation. The women have one hour and 15 minutes for 40 shots (men take 60 shots in one hour and 45 minutes). The perfect score for women is 400 (600 for men), while 393 is considered world class.

The top eight competitors advance to a 10-shot final round, with 75 seconds allowed per shot. The final is calculated in tenths of a point and added to the match score to determine winners. A perfect final score is 109.0.

In the three-position rifle, athletes fire a .22-caliber smallbore rifle from the prone, standing, and kneeling positions at targets from 50 feet to 300 feet away. The bull’s eye is 10.4 millimeters in diameter, smaller than a dime. Though today there are separate events for men and women, from 1952 to 1980, three-position rifle was an open Olympic event, where men and women had to compete head-to-head.

Competitors shoot free rifles with metallic sights (no scopes). Men fire 40 rounds per position for a total of 120 shots, with time limits of one hour for prone, 90 minutes for standing, and 75 minutes for kneeling. Women shoot 20 rounds per position for a total of 60 shots. They have a total of 21/2 hours for all three positions.

For men, 1,200 is perfect and 1,165 is world-class, while for women, 600 is perfect, and 580 is world-class. The top eight performers advance to the 10-shot final, fired entirely from the standing position with 75 seconds allotted per shot. Once again, the final is calculated in tenths of a point added to the match point total to determine winners, making a perfect final score 109.0, and a perfect aggregate score for men 1,309, and for women 709.

The last Americans to earn gold medals in these two events were Nancy Johnson, who won the gold medal at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, in the air rifle, and Laini Meili, who won the women’s gold in the three-position rifle at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

Casey has proven to be an up-and-coming star in both events, and is being viewed as a medal hopeful of the future.

"Because of her performances at the nationals, Dave Johnson [the U.S. National Team coach] appointed her at-large to the Developmental Team, which trains in Colorado Springs," J.T. said. "Now, she’ll be given top-notch coaching, and all the other benefits of being on the team.

"She’ll be traveling to different world events to compete as a junior, and will build up to earning a spot on the Olympic team."

Gabriel took part in the National Junior Olympic Three-Position Air Rifle Championship this past weekend in Bowling Green, Ky., at Western Kentucky University. Next, it’s off to Camp Terry, Ohio, for the National Rifle Association Nationals.

But the travel is nothing new to Casey and her mom, who have been seeing quite a bit of the country over the last three years.

"I’ve gone through two cars already, and put over 35,000 miles on one car this year," J.T said.

And with the support of her family and friends (in particular her grandmother, Ruth Lupo of Milltown), Casey is looking forward to achieving her ultimate goal.

"I want to get to the Olympics," she said. "Oh, and win the gold of course."

Apparently, she has that goal well in her sights.