MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Jon Hammond needs more than one hand to count the blessings in his life.
The West Virginia University rifle coach has restored the glory to the Mountaineer program, his top priority when he earned the job in 2006. He led his team to its nation-best 14th national title in 2009, and the squad is consistently ranked in the top 3 nationally each season. He continues to draw the world’s top athletes to Morgantown, and they in turn exceed expectations and graduate with top honors.
Away from his coaching duties, Hammond cleaned up the competition at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, winning four medals and becoming the most successful Scottish athlete in a single Games, and he qualified for his second Olympic Games in four years, as he will don the Great Britain uniform at this year’s London Summer Games.
Hammond’s latest blessing? Experience and knowledge.
“You always dream of going to the Olympics, so to go twice is great,” the Aberdeen, Scotland, native said prior to leaving for London last week. “I’m looking forward to enjoying these Games. I’m much more relaxed then I was in China (at the 2008 Beijing Olympics), and I think I’m more confident in myself. I’m confident that I can go to London and have a performance that I’m happy with and use all of the skills I have been working on the last few years.”
Hammond admits to taking a realistic approach to this year’s Games, acknowledging that the success he achieved in India at the Commonwealth Games was on a completely different competitive level than the Olympic Games.
“I don’t have any major expectations for these Games,” he explained. “I think I would like to be in a position to where I’m making finals more often at World Cups and hopefully medaling. Until I make that step, I don’t expect to go to the Olympics and medal.”
Qualifying for his second consecutive games is a positive step in the upward climb Hammond continues to make in the sport.
“For me, these Games are just another step in the learning process and another amazing experience,” he expanded. “I look at someone like Nicco (Campriani), who has consistently won medals at the last few World Cups, as someone that could medal at these Games. This sport is a step-by-step sport. It’s a process, and you have to go through the stages and gain those experiences.”
Hammond isn’t alone in thinking Campriani, his former pupil at WVU and the 2011 NCAA air rifle champion, could medal this summer. A native of Florence, Italy, Campriani enters his second Olympic Games ranked No. 1 in the world in men’s air rifle and 3 position, and pundits around the world, including Sports Illustrated the Associated Press sports staff, expect the reigning air rifle world champion to win both events.
“It would be awesome,” Hammond said of Campriani’s potential success. “It would be an amazing achievement for him. I know (an Olympic medal) has been one of his main goals. I think he’s really improved as a shooter over the last four years. Hopefully, being here in Morgantown and being a part of this team has contributed to his growth in a small way.”
Campriani returns to the Olympic stage following a solid showing in Beijing, where he shot 594 air rifle and finished 12th, just short of qualification for the discipline finals. He also placed 38th in prone and 39th in 3 position.
“I think having been to the Olympics before will help Nicco, too,” Hammond said. “I know he had some demons left over from Beijing. He worked a lot with Dr. Ed (Etzel), and I think that really helped.”
Pegged a “rising star” by the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), Campriani has participated in 12 ISSF World Cups since winning the air rifle world championship. He has made 10 finals appearances and mounted the podium eight times. Since April, he has picked up five medals, including Gold in the men’s 50m rifle 3 position at the Munich ISSF World Cup and the men’s 10m air rifle at the Milan ISSF World Cup.
“Nicco has a great opportunity to do really well, but I hope he doesn’t go into the competition feeling too much pressure,” said Hammond. “He’s obviously shooting great right now. He’s had an incredible run in the World Cups this year, and he’s one of the few shooters to own more than one No. 1 ranking at the same time. That’s pretty awesome by itself.”
Hammond and Campriani could line up against each other in the men’s 50m 3 position and the men’s 50m prone. While they once shared a coach-athlete relationship, the duo has known each other for several years, having previously shot against each other on the international circuit.
“Honestly, it’s not odd,” Hammond said of shooting against his former pupil. “I’m sure a lot of people in the States may think it’s crazy and weird, but it really isn’t. I met Nicco for the first time at a World Cup, and we’ve been competing against each other for the last four years, so I suppose it will be pretty normal. We’re used to it.”
Though Campriani may end up dropping the men’s prone event in order to focus on 3 position and air rifle, Hammond is guaranteed to face former Mountaineer Eric Uptagrafft. Currently ranked No. 6 in the world in prone, Uptagrafft, the 1993 NCAA smallbore champion and a three-time NRA First Team All-American, will shoot for the United States in his second career Games. He last qualified in 1996 for the Atlanta Summer Games.
A 20-year member of the USA National Team, Uptagrafft is a part of the Navy Reserves and was deployed to Kuwait in January of 2007 for seven months. He currently is a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit and was deployed in the summer of 2011 to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Like Hammond, Uptagrafft believes his previous Olympic experience should serve him well in London.
“In 1996, after I made the Olympic team, I felt I had to do something extraordinary to have a chance at a medal,” he explained. “I began really tinkering around with my position and pretty much changed what had got me on the team in the first place. This time, I’m much more confident in my shooting and know that I just have to shoot my normal match to have a chance at the podium.
“All I want to do is shoot my normal match. That will give me a better than average chance at a medal.”
Uptagrafft will shoot under rifle coach Dave Johnson, a former Mountaineer and an Olympian at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games. The 1983 NCAA smallbore champion, Major Johnson joined the U.S. Army Reserves after graduating from WVU in 1986 and became a member of the USAMU. He is currently on Active Duty with the US Army World Class Athlete Program.
Rising WVU senior Petra Zublasing
completes the quartet of Mountaineers shooting for an Olympic medal. The reigning NCAA air rifle champion, the Appiano, Italy, native will compete in her first Olympic Games. Zublasing is currently ranked No. 32 in the world in the women’s 10m air rifle and has an outside chance of cracking the event’s final. She also will shoot in the women’s 50m 3 position; the women do not compete in a prone event.
Hammond plans on watching his top WVU shooter in London.
“I will be cheering Petra on, and I hope to see a good match from her,” he said. “I think her goal should be to have a really good performance. After that, she can’t control what the Chinese and the Germans do. She is definitely very capable of shooting a really high score, and I just hope she goes in there and has a performance that she can be happy with. I don’t think she’s among the favorites, but she’s a great shooter and she’s had a great year. She made that step, but this is her first Olympics. Hopefully, there isn’t too much of a ‘wow’ factor and she can stay focused.”
Zublasing and Campriani’s presence in London aides WVU’s international reputation tremendously.
“The reward of having Petra and Nicco compete together at the Olympics, having just trained at the WVU Rifle Range over the last few years, is the great exposure this team receives,” Hammond said. “I think the teammates that are still here will really benefit from their experience. Petra still has another year with us, and the knowledge and experience she will be able to share with her teammates is invaluable.
“Having three Olympians train at our range is just great for recruiting. Maren (Prediger) is another international recruit that we brought in for next season, and I’m sure she saw the effect that competing for WVU had on Nicco and Petra’s success. Hopefully, we will continue to get that positive attention. I plan to continue to recruit globally.”
International exposure for the Mountaineers is just another of Hammond’s limitless blessings.
“I think having five Olympic ties to WVU is just a part of this program’s legacy,” he confidently stated. “We continue to strive to retain the team’s glory. I think the Olympics are just another great venue to showcase the history and tradition of the WVU rifle team. This is definitely what I envisioned when I took over the job of taking this program back to glory. I wanted to add to this program’s rich history. We have, and that’s just great.”Of Note ...
- The trip from Aberdeen to London is about an eight-hour drive. Hammond is looking forward to walking out last in the Games’ Opening Ceremony as a part of the host nation. “Very few Olympians get to do that,” he said. “That’s going to be a cool opportunity.”
- Hammond’s tight schedule prevented him from staying in Beijing past his competitions in 2008. This time around, he plans on staying in London through the end of the Games and attending his first Olympics Closing Ceremony. Additionally, he hopes to attend a few athletic events and is particularly keen to watching Great Britain compete in cycling and tennis.
- Uptagrafft has an extra-special teammate by his side in London – his wife Sandra Uptagrafft. Sandra will compete in the women’s 10m air pistol and the women’s 25m sport pistol. The Uptagraffts are believed to be the first husband and wife couple to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team. The couple will celebrate their wedding anniversary in London on August 5.
- At the age of 46, Uptagrafft also owns the distinction of being the oldest rifle team member.
- Zublasing will not walk with the Italian National Team in the Games’ Opening Ceremony on July 27, as the women’s 10m air rifle event is scheduled to start at 8:15 a.m. London GMT the next day. The event’s final and medal ceremony are the first of the Games.
- WVU also will be represented in the track & field arena, as Sarah-Anne Brault
and Clara Grandt have qualified as alternates for the Canadian and USA National Teams, respectively. Brault is an alternate for the women’s triathlon, while Grandt is an alternate for the women’s 10,000-meter.
- WVU leads all NCAA schools with five Capital One Academic All-America selections competing in the Olympics: Campriani, Zublasing, Uptagrafft, Johnson and Brault.