LONDON — Vincent Hancock no longer liked the feel of the “USA” letters on his back as his skeet-shooting legacy crumbled.
An Olympic gold medalist four years ago at age 19, he spun out last year, finishing 67th at the world championships and hitting a numbingly low 116 targets at a World Cup event in Slovenia. He felt embarrassed representing the U.S. and “having people see me shoot those scores.”
Strong words for an Army sergeant.
It made his spot atop the medal stand Tuesday at the Royal Artillery Barracks that much more memorable.
Hancock became the first U.S. man to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in skeet after hitting 148 of 150 targets to beat Denmark’s Anders Golding.
Somewhere between hitting all 25 in the final round and listening to the national anthem a few minutes later, last year couldn’t have been more buried.
“When I hit bottom, that’s when we just reassessed,” Hancock said. “I didn’t have any goals after the last Olympics, because that was the only thing I ever thought about since I was 11 years old. There was nothing else for me to work for.
“My work ethic went down. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. It took a little while, but then we figured it out, that this was truly my passion.”
The youngest competitor Tuesday almost quit the sport after skidding in Slovenia last year.
“That’s the worst score I ever shot in my life,” he said, crediting his wife, Rebekah, for talking him into continuing to fire.
He gradually improved from there, winning in the Pan American Games last year, finishing seventh at a World Cup event this year and taking fourth at another World Cup.
He then hit a staggering 274 out of 275 targets at the U.S. championships in June. He knew he was ready for the Olympics.
He maintained a one-point edge over Golding in the final round Tuesday and grabbed some breathing room after Golding missed the 17th of 25 targets to finish with 146 points.
The 123 points Hancock had going into the final beat the Olympic record of 121 he shared with Norway’s Tore Brovold.
Hancock plans to leave the Army in November to open a shooting academy in Georgia with his father and coach, Craig.
“How big can I grow this sport and how many people can I introduce to it?” he said. “Just trying to spread the word.”