University of Kentucky rifle star Mary Tucker opened up her Tokyo Olympics schedule with a sixth-place finish in the women’s 10-meter air rifle finals on Saturday at the Asaka Shooting Facility.
The 20-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., who was ranked second in the world in the event, had posted the third-highest qualifying score during the first stage of competition to earn one of eight spots in the finals.
Tucker started the finals well before being derailed by two sub 10s in each of her first five series. She regrouped with a perfect 10.9 and survived the first two eliminations before finishing sixth.
In the medal race, Yang Qian sat just 0.2 points from a gold and then uncorked her worst shot of the finals. No way a 9.8 was going to be enough to overtake Anastasiia Galashina. Turns out, it was — by a long shot.
Yang won the first gold medal of the Tokyo Games, setting an Olympic record in the event with 251.8 points despite a shaky final shot. Nina Christen of Switzerland took bronze.
“It’s unbelievable that I can be here,” Yang said through an interpreter. “I was really nervous. The competition was really tight, but I’m so happy that I could win.”
Galashina was the final of eight qualifiers and surged to the lead in the finals with a series of shots 10.5 or better. She hit a 10.8 her penultimate shot — one off the highest attainable score — to lead Galashina by 0.2 points.
Galashina and Yang fired almost simultaneously on the last shot and the limited crowd at Asaka Shooting Range let out gasps as the scores posted a split second later.
Yang, who qualified sixth, had been consistent throughout the finals, repeatedly hitting near the center of the 10 circle. The 21-year-old missed the innermost circle on her final shot, a 9.8 that surely would cost her gold.
Disappointed with her final shot, Yang looked up to see Galashina missed on her chance and the two center rings. The Russian’s 8.9 meant IOC President Thomas Bach would present Yang the gold medal on a tray — per pandemic protocols — instead of Galashina.
“I got too nervous, held on too long,” said Galashina, who finished with 251.1 points. “My thoughts were not in the right place. I lost concentration. The explanation is very simple.”
Two more events for Tucker
Tucker has two more opportunities to earn an Olympic medal: in the women’s 50-meter three-position rifle (July 31) and the 10-meter air rifle mixed team event (July 27).
The 2020-21 season has been a banner year for Tucker, who most recently shined at the USA Shooting Junior Olympic Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., in May. Tucker won gold in smallbore and finished fifth in air rifle at the event. Earlier this year, Tucker led the Wildcats to their third national championship posting the highest ever team score in the modern format at the NCAA Rifle Championships.
Tucker’s trophy case continued to grow after she won the International Shooting Sport Federation Women’s Air Rifle 10m Gold Medal in April. That win was on top of her earning the most outstanding performer honor at the NCAA Championships in March. The sophomore took home every top title possible at the championships, winning smallbore individual gold, air rifle individual gold and the overall title.
Tucker was tabbed the Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association Athlete of the Year for the second straight season.