Preparing athletes for the Olympics

Kelly Reisdorf is not new to the shooting sports industry, but she is fresh in taking charge of a sports organization amid an Olympic movement. 

Reisdorf became the CEO of USA Shooting in March. With just about two months of experience in her new role, Reisdorf said she’s already discovered how athletes within the organization are successful in the sport. 

“The grit, dedication, commitment, excellence and adaptability that the athletes show is so impressive,” Reisdorf said. “This is a sport that has some physical sort of demands to it, but it actually has a huge mental focus demand component. For the athletes to have these traits, it’s special.” 

The U.S. leads the all-time medal table in Olympic shooting with 116, 57 of them gold medals. 

In the past, shooters such as Carl Osburn, Willis A. Lee, Alfred Lane and Morris Fisher helped establish the U.S. as the best country in the sport at the Games. That mantle is now carried nowadays by veteran Vincent Hancock and phenom Mary Tucker.

Ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics, Reisdorf said the resources away from the shooting range are what help create a winning culture within the organization through an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“What is also impressive about the program is our community engagement model,” she said. “We have so many past Olympians and so much support from the broader shooting community that are involved in the process of mentoring and supporting athletes while creating this support system and a sense of continuity that is super helpful for our active competitors. To see all of this mobilized in action is pretty cool.” 

Other resources within the organization include those of mental health access. 

Reisdorf said shooting may not be the most physical sport, but it is one that requires an immense amount of concentration. And that’s not just when athletes are aiming at a target, but also when they are put in high-stakes situations, such as competing for an Olympic gold medal. 

“Part of the charge for us leaders surrounding these Olympians is how we set them up for success, and part of that is eliminating distractions and doing everything we can to give them the most frictionless experience,” Reisdorf said. “We are mapping out all the elements of each athlete’s experience so that they can focus on preparation in the absolute best and highest way possible. We also have sports psychologists who help with the performances in terms of performance anxiety, coping with the pressures of competition and just how to manage your overall well-being in the context of living through the highs and the lows that are typically associated with elite sports competition.”

Reisdorf added she is seeing a direct translation with athletes performing better after using the mental health resources offered by the organization. For example, when she sees a shooting event, she also notices the concentration and relaxation from the athletes to go on and win a medal. 

Another mission for USA Shooting is to ensure athletes can have a work-life balance and focus on their personal goals when they are away from the shooting range or not practicing. 

Continued dominance

Despite the dominance in Olympic shooting for the U.S. for quite some time, Reisdorf has noticed other nations are catching up. 

The U.S. has not led the medal count since the 1984 Games, which was the same year China qualified its first shooting athletes at the Olympics. And since that year of the Games, China has collected 67 Olympic medals, while the U.S. has only secured 37. India is also another opponent to watch. Although they are not considered a historic powerhouse, India has established itself as a contender on the world stage after winning four Olympic shooting medals – one per Games from 2004 to 2016. 

“We are witnessing a leveling in the overall competitive landscape, but this rise and competitiveness really is a call to action for Team USA to push, innovate and refine our training systems to really calibrate our athletes’ support systems,” Reisdorf said. “When you look at the industry of adaptive technologies and more inclusive training programs, we want to learn from any and all of these so that we are showing up and doing our absolute best to allow athletes to be able to compete at their best.”

Another way the U.S. will help keep its dominance in the sport is through the age diversity represented by its athletes, Reisdorf mentioned. 

Hancock, who competes in the men’s skeet event, has been competing at the Games for nearly two decades. The 35-year-old won gold at the 2008, 2016 and 2020 Games. Heading into Paris with the addition of mixed team skeet, the Eatonton, Georgia native also will have the opportunity to add two more medals to his collection. A win in mixed team skeet or men’s skeet would make him one of six Americans with four or more Olympic gold medals in shooting. He also has a chance to become the first American Olympic shooter since 1964 to win two medals in the same Games.

Another American athlete who will be at the Paris Games is 22-year-old Tucker. She made her Olympic debut in Tokyo at age 19, winning silver in the 10m air rifle mixed team. Since then, the Sarasota, Florida native quickly has risen to be one the best in the sport after winning gold at the 2023 ISSF World Championship in the women’s 50m rifle 3 positions team event and at the 2023 Pan American Games in the women’s 50m smallbore rifle event.

Although both compete in different events in the sport, Reisdorf said the fundamentals are similar, and that’s where the coaching or leadership from the more experienced athletes can positively impact the growth of a younger athlete.

“Those two athletes are such phenomenal role models in so many different ways and it makes us have generational diversity within the organization,” Reisdorf said. “It really does help to make this a stronger program and I think you’re going to see it in our results in Paris, and you’re going to see even more of those results for the next quad. You have a mentoring dynamic, you got veterans like Hancock who brings a lot of wisdom and stability and you also have some of the younger athletes that have a fresh perspective and a lot of ideas around how we can innovate the sport.”

“This blend benefits each Olympian individually but it also goes towards creating more of a team spirit,” Residorf added. 

Preparing for the future

There’s a mission within USA Shooting that involves winning at the Olympics now, while also preparing for future quads.

Heading into the Paris Olympics, Reisdorf said she’s eager to see her athletes compete for a gold medal, but if there’s anything that gets her more excited than that, it’s already preparing for the next Olympic quad. 

There are a few ways to approach this mission for Reisdorf, such as continuing to provide resources for the younger Olympic shooters so they can develop their game and making sure the veterans stay performing at a high level. But she said there’s another avenue to do so that can keep the program in good shape well after the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics – community initiatives.  

“Our country has a robust talent and pipeline and we work with so many organizations to focus on the youth pipeline of tomorrow,” she said. “We work to find the shooters for the next quad and the next quad while also continuing this culture of excellence and innovation to always be getting better in every quad. We also find ways of making sure we have what we need for the next quad in equipment and training programs.”

Another goal for Reisdorf is to make the sport accessible to young athletes looking to join shooting. 

“The marksman of tomorrow and the new talent coming up, they have come to this activity in many different ways and that’s what we want, to be an inclusive sport,” she said. “We want everybody to have a place and give everybody the opportunity, if you choose to pursue it, an Olympic journey. It’s very accessible.”