Advertisement
Share

Ginny Thrasher, 19, becomes youngest woman ever to win the first gold medal of Games

Ginny Thrasher won the women's 10-meter air rifle competition at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 6.
(USA Shooting)

Ginny Thrasher walked into the Fandango Room at Barra Olympic Park carrying a bit of history Saturday evening. Some eight hours earlier, at age 19, she became the youngest woman ever to win the first gold medal of the Games.

Ranked 23rd in the world, she shocked the rather insular shooting world by winning the women’s 10-meter air rifle competition. It was a moment that surely would rattle any just-turned-adult, especially one at an athletic competition where the crowd can be counted by hand.

Instead it was a display of the near-perfect recitation of stock answers — don’t reveal anything, proud to represent your country, focus, focus, focus. The smile never went away, the bubble never burst.

“I knew if I made the final that anything could happen,” Thrasher said of her most improbable rise from middle-of-the-pack obscurity to the top of the medal stand. She was the sixth qualifier from a field of 51.

Advertisement

See the most-read stories in Sports this hour »

Sports

Final steel beam placed in new Rams stadium construction On Now

Final steel beam placed in new Rams stadium construction

Carlos Balderas of the USA Olympic Boxing team On Now

Carlos Balderas of the USA Olympic Boxing team

2016 US Open of Surfing On Now

2016 US Open of Surfing

Rams open training camp in Irvine On Now

Video: Rams open training camp in Irvine

Rams receiver Tavon Auston, "We in Cali" On Now

Rams receiver Tavon Auston, "We in Cali"

Behind the scenes: Creating Olympians' portraits On Now

Behind the scenes: Creating Olympians' portraits

Rams training camp from a St. Louis perspective On Now

Rams training camp from a St. Louis perspective

Rams Trumaine Johnson back home in California On Now

Rams Trumaine Johnson back home in California

Kanoa Igarashi: Huntington Beach is the first Asian-American surfer to qualify for the World Surf League's Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour. On Now

Kanoa Igarashi: Huntington Beach is the first Asian-American surfer to qualify for the World Surf League's Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour.

Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry recap Rams training camp Day 2 On Now

Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry recap Rams training camp Day 2

After the first round of the final, she was third, then jumped to first in the second round and stayed near the top as the field narrowed one by one until she beat Li Du, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic gold medalist, in the ninth round of the series.

Three years ago, Thrasher, then a student at West Springfield (Va.) High, was 43rd at the junior nationals. The year before, around the time of the London Olympics, she hadn’t even picked up the sport.

“I started shooting that August and I remember watching the Games and watching the men’s air rifle event,” Thrasher said. “I didn’t even know the rules or how it worked. I’m very thankful to be here four years later.”

Growing up, Thrasher had designs on being a figure skater. But by the time she entered high school that looked like a long-term nonstarter.

“I would go figure skate in the morning and then go to school and then go to rifle practice right after,” she said. “Figure skating for me was always a nice outlet. It was good exercise. It helped my balance. It was a good amount of social time. For me it was something that I loved but it was a hobby. I kind of dreamed about going to the Olympics but it was a very unrealistic dream.”

Advertisement

She learned to shoot from her father, who had served in the Air Force. Hunting was a family hobby. One of her first experiences was with her grandfather, father and two brothers.

“They didn’t think I could kill a deer,” Thrasher told the Washington Post earlier this year. “It was just a big rush of adrenaline. Things were happening very fast and all of a sudden, my aim was good and it was an exciting feeling.”

Whatever excitement and exuberance she felt that day clearly has been replaced by a calm and assured manner that seemed more coached than possible for a 19-year-old on the most important day of her athletic career. After clearing doping control at the shooting complex at Deodoro, she went to Copacabana where NBC got the interviews that come with a big rights-holder check.

“About halfway through the final I knew I was in contention for a medal and that was a great feeling obviously,” Thrasher said. “But I had to go and push that thought away and come back and focus on shooting. . . . I’m just very proud to start off the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in such a positive manner for my country.”

Advertisement

With questions cut off after 15 minutes, she held up her medal for some camera-phone photo ops and whisked out a back door.

She plans to give her parents and brothers a tour of the athletes village on Sunday before preparing for the three-position competition Thursday. Then it’s back to the U.S., and back to school at West Virginia University.

Follow John Cherwa on Twitter @jcherwa

Times staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this story.

Advertisement

MORE FROM OLYMPICS

Olympic dreams can end quickly, and the regret that follows can be difficult to take

Rio Games: Even the best swimmers need lifeguard protection, plus it’s the law

Opening ceremony proves Rio can throw a party; NBC, not so much

Advertisement

Watch Gisele lose it during the Rio Olympics opening ceremony (and other musical highlights)


Advertisement