Chance to make history

Vincent Hancock can have a historic tournament this summer at the 2024 Paris Olympics if everything goes according to plan.

He has already won gold at the 2008, 2012 and 2020 Olympics. And now with the mixed team skeet making its debut in Paris, Hancock has two opportunities to become one of six Americans with four or more Olympic gold medals in shooting. He also can become the first American Olympic shooter since 1964 to win two medals at the same Games.

Hancock, however, prefers to focus on improving his game and doing what he can to defend his title.

“All these history things, it is what it is, but my sole goal is to go there and win gold medals and whatever happens, happens,” Hancock said. “All I can do is just go do my best because I know that if I go and do my best that I can win. But it’s not a given, even if I’m doing my best. If history is on my side, then I’ll do well, and if I do well, then I’ll be etched in history. It’s a cool thought but it doesn’t go into changing anything that I do.”

Balancing work and life

Ahead of the Paris Olympics, Hancock is keeping himself busy with a few things – practicing, running his small business and being with his family. 

One specific training that he said he has been doing each Olympic quad is distraction shooting. In this exercise, Hancock brings people out while he aims at targets and tells them to do anything to try and make him miss, such as making noises, playing music or throwing things in his direction as long as they don’t physically touch him. 

“I have to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Hancock said. “Being at the Games, there’s more pressure and more nerves than you’re gonna face in any other sport because it’s once every four years. Only Olympians truly understand what it’s like to face Olympic pressure. We don’t have the Super Bowl every year in our sport, we have the Olympics and it is only once every four years and our careers are based on that one moment in time, every four years.”

When a training session is over for the Eatonton, Georgia native, he still spends more time in the sport through his business, Northlake Shooting. It’s a youth-focused shooting training center based in Northlake, Texas. 

Hancock not only runs the business but also coaches and mentors the young athletes who are a part of the program. He believes it’s a way for him to see the sport from a different perspective while also giving back and sharing everything he’s learned competing at the elite level. 

“We’ve only been open a year and a half and we’re progressing really nicely and we’re expanding a lot faster than I was planning on, but it’s been awesome,” the three-time gold medalist said. “It’s such a unique experience that while I’m still in the industry of shooting, it’s totally different because I’m not an athlete anymore, I’m working to build this opportunity for other people to be able to come out, do the sport that I love as a hobby.”

The 35-year-old added he is already seeing high school kids who practice at Northlake Shooting being recruited by colleges and some of the better shooters are considering going through an Olympic journey through the sport. This includes Austen Smith (Keller, Texas), who was part of the training center and is set to compete with Hancock at the 2024 Games. The two have already teamed up for a world title in mixed team skeet at the 2023 World Championships. 

When Hancock is away from the training fields and coaching young athletes, it’s back to spending time with his wife and two daughters. He admits preparing for the Games and running his business can be tiring, but that all goes away when he gets to be with his family. 

But it wasn’t always plain and simple for Hancock. 

In his early years of professional shooting, Hancock said he found himself at times being too concentrated on the sport and not showing much attention to those closest to him. It was a battle to find a balance between the two.

“I’ve learned the hard way on trying to understand how to compartmentalize things in life because when I competed really good in the past, I would be devoid of all emotion,” he said. “That would even come back with me to my work life and home life, all that kind of stuff. That was difficult, and you could ask my wife. Yeah, we went through some hard times, because I would just be so focused on what I needed to do to win that my focus was taken back off of the family.”

Hancock added that he sometimes looks back at his early pro days and feels regret, but understands there were some life lessons he learned from those situations. Now, he knows how to flip a switch from being an Olympic competitor to a family man. 

“When I’m on the range, I can get into that and I can only focus on myself and doing the correct movement and all the process that I need to do,” he said. “As soon as I’m done on the station, I can sit back out and I’m a totally different person again. I don’t have to be that guy and devoid of emotion, but when I’m on the station or in a final, I’m locked in and super focused. It’s really nice when you get into that spot, but if you try to stay focused on the sport itself all through life, it’s difficult because it’s just mentally and physically draining.”

“I wish I knew the things that I know now compared to 20 years ago, as we can all say, when I was just really getting into the sport because it would have changed my entire life, my outlook on life,” Hancock added. “It would’ve changed the way that I attack the targets, the way that I approach the competitions, friends, relationships and all those different things.”

Hancock’s outlook on Paris Olympics

The 35-year-old said if he could give any advice to his younger self besides learning how to balance being an athlete and family man, it would be to enjoy every second of each Olympic Games he has qualified for. 

“When I first started this, I never expected that I would go to five [Olympic Games],” Hancock said. “I was solely focused on going to Beijing and winning a gold medal. After that, I had no idea what I was going to do. In 2011, I figured out what I wanted to do so I got out of the military and I had a couple of good sponsorships that allowed me to do this professionally. And after Tokyo, I keep thinking to myself, holy crap! It’s already been four Olympic Games. Oh my gosh! I’m closing in on 20 years now.”

Heading into his fifth Olympic Games, Hancock believes it will be the most challenging one yet to win gold again. The reason is that the playing field in the sport is becoming more level, and the proof is in the pudding. 

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. Since then, China has collected 67 Olympic medals while the U.S. has only won 37. Another country on the rise is India. Although it is not considered a historic powerhouse, India has quickly established itself as a contender on the global stage after winning an Olympic shooting medal at the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Games. 

Hancock said shooting is one of the few sports at the Olympics where a nation can walk away with multiple medals, unlike sports such as soccer or water polo, where only one team wins the whole tournament. And with other countries using this method to increase their medal count, it only adds more competition to Olympic shooting events. 

“Shooting has 15 different events that allow athletes to win multiple medals, so other countries are trying to put funding behind those opportunities to win medals,” he said. “If we went and we swept everything, we’re winning 30 medals, and that opportunity to win that many medals makes a huge difference in terms of our medal count for the U.S.. But that’s what India and China also want to do, they’re focusing a lot on the shooting sports because they also know that we don’t have much funding at all in the U.S.”

Hancock said the funding other countries receive from their respective governments helps provide them with the best coaches and equipment while also sending their best athletes to elite competitions. 

Still, Hancock won’t use the increase in competition as an excuse for how he plays in Paris this summer.

“I can promise you one thing, the athletes that I’ll be competing against at the Games, if they beat me, then they’ll earn that medal,” he said. “I’m not ever gonna let anybody beat me unless they earn it. If they beat me, they know that they have done everything they can do to beat me on that day, but they’re gonna have to work for it, I’m not gonna give it away.”