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4-H shooter sets sights on Olympics

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Patrick T. Cannon extends his right arm and steadies the pistol in his hand, takes careful aim and fires. It's not a game to him. He's aiming for the Olympics, and he's getting closer with each shot.

Cannon, 16, is one of the youngest members of the USA Shooting national development team. USAS is the governing body that trains and selects the shooting teams that represent the United States at World Cups, World Shooting Championships, the Pan American Games and the Olympic Games.

Olympic development

Cannon has been invited twice to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., to train with the USAS's 10-meter air pistol and free pistol teams. Picked from across the United States, only 11 people are on the development team now. About 15 are on the national team.

Erich Buljung, an Olympic silver medalist in 1988, coaches the pistol teams. "I think he likes me," Cannon said. "But it's really hard to tell. It comes down to how you score."

Cannon will return to Colorado Springs in April to compete in the 2003 Junior Olympics. From there, it could be on to Athens, Greece, for the 2004 Olympic Games.

4-H trained

Cannon was born and raised in Tifton, Ga. He began his shooting career in the eighth grade when his mother and father, Patsie and Carroll Cannon, insisted he get involved with the county's 4- H shooting program.

"I really didn't want to do it at first," Cannon said. But shortly after joining, he learned he was better at shooting than most of his peers. "I got more interested in it then."

"It takes a lot of mental discipline, practice and focus on what you're doing. (You have to) blot out everything else," said David Haire, who coaches the 4-H shooters in Tift County. "And Patrick T. can do all of this."

Though the student now beats the coach most often, Haire still advises Cannon on his shooting technique. Haire will be going with Cannon to Colorado Springs in April.

Cannon blew through state 4-H competitions and became a state winner, or master, at the air pistol. When a person masters a 4- H event, he is ineligible to compete in that event again. Cannon is on his way to mastering the 4-H air rifle and now helps coach the county's 4-H air pistol team.

Many would think a young boy from a rural area who shoots like Cannon would be into game hunting. But he's not.

"I've never been hunting. Don't know if I have the patience for it," he said. "I just like shooting."

The scores

Free pistol shooting, a men's-only event, has been part of the Olympics since 1896. With separate events for men and women, air pistol shooting joined the games in 1988.

In the air pistol competition, the athlete fires lead pellets at a bull's eye target 10 meters away.

Cannon shoots a Morini compressed-air pistol, priced around $1,100. Its trigger weight is very light, around 500 grams.

Men take 60 shots in 1 hour and 45 minutes. Women have 1 hour and 15 minutes for 40 shots.

For men, a perfect score is 600, and 585 is world-class. Cannon scores consistently around 540 but feels he'll soon be "at the next level."

Cannon also shoots on the free pistol team, where athletes shoot .22 caliber pistols from 50 meters at bull's eye targets with a 2-inch center. Cannon shoots his $1,000 German-made Steyr for this competition.

The athletes take 60 shots in 2 hours. A perfect score is 600, and 565 is world-class. Cannon is newer to this sport but already scores in the low 500s.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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