Saturday, May 22, 2004

Shooter sees Olympic quest as way to honor fellow soldiers

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jason Parker follows the news, so it's hard when he hears of Army brethren dying in combat. Yet he said that doesn't trifle his primary assignment as a staff sergeant in the Army's marksmanship unit: to win Olympic gold.

The Xavier grad, the reigning world champion and world record-holder in air rifle, began that quest Friday with the beginning of the Olympic Shooting Trials in Fort Benning, Ga.

"In the marksmanship unit, we're soldiers first," he said. "Any time you hear something like that (soldiers dying), there is more pride in what you're doing. You try that much harder.

"You want to keep your flag up on the podium, keep it raised above the rest so everyone knows the United States is best at what you do. We're in a position to do that, and that's a good place to be."

Parker, 29, placed fifth in air rifle at the 2000 Olympics and won at the most recent world championship in 2002. He stands fifth - 693.4 points, just 1.5 points out of first - after the first of three days of qualifying for air rifle. The top two qualify for the Games.

Hannah Kerr, a Xavier senior-to-be, is the only other shooter with local ties expected to contend for an Olympic berth. She stands 10th after the first day of three-position rifle with a 570; the top two qualify.

Dave Johnson, the U.S. national team coach, calls Parker "kind of the king" in air rifle - shooting from 10 meters. Parker was USA Shooting's co-athlete of the year in 2003. Yet he and Johnson say that internationally there are 10 to 15 competitors strong enough to win gold.

Parker also will try to qualify in the other two men's rifle events - prone and three-position (standing, kneeling and prone) - both of which are shot at 50 meters. Johnson said Parker, who won the 2003 Pan American Games in three-position, is likely to battle Matt Emmons and Michael Anti for the two three-position Olympic berths. He's unlikely to qualify in the prone competition.

The men's prone competition is Tuesday through Thursday, and three-position is May 29-31

Kerr, a silver medalist last year in three-position (also 50 meters) at nationals, still could rally for an Olympic berth.

"Depending on the day, anyone in about the top dozen (women) can win a match," she said.

XU long has been a rifle hotbed. The school has had five consecutive top-five finishes at the NCAA championships, and it produced another Olympian in Thrine Kane, who placed 35th in women's three-position in Sydney in 2000.

Three Greater Cincinnatians already have qualified for the 2004 Olympics: synchronized swimmer Becky Jasontek and boxers Ron Siler and Rau'Shee Warren.


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