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FORT BENNING, Ga. -- U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit shooters and 2012 Olympians Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker and Staff Sgt. Josh Richmond finished 2012 on top of the podium at the World Cup Finals with two gold medal-winning matches to close out the year.
Both Soldiers went to London with huge expectations of bringing home Olympic hardware only to return empty-handed and with a lot of 'what-ifs.' Winning gold again not only built momentum heading into the next Olympic quadrennial calendar but also validated their position among the world's elite.
"It's one of the premier events of the year that only a few people get invited to compete at," Parker said, who won in the Men's three-position rifle event. "I've always had my sights set on winning a World Cup final. Winning the gold was a good ending to a long, competitive year."
The World Cup Final is a prestigious event, pitting the world's best in a season-ending match. To qualify for the match you had to medal in either last year's final, in one of four World Cups held in the calendar year or, in the case of this year, the Olympics. Competing again on the world stage was what the doctor ordered for both Soldiers.
Richmond finished in 16th-place in London after heading into the Olympics as the world's number-one ranked double trap shooter. He shot his lowest score in more than a decade and watched the medal he was certain he would win hang around someone else's neck, a source of motivation he will picture in his mind the next four years.
"This one feels really good," Richmond said. "The day after my match at the Olympics I was certain that I was going to put the gun down for a while, reflect on what happened and evaluate everything. But during my evaluation I realized that what I really needed to do was shoot this match and prove to myself that the Olympics was just one of those bad days and I am still the same person who was good enough to make the Olympics."
Parker went into his fourth Olympics determined to leave with the medal he has been chasing for twenty years. He won a gold medal in May at a World Cup match in Italy before winning the Olympic Trials in June, putting him in position to fare well in London. After two solid rounds in his match, he stumbled in the third and final round and finished out of medal contention.
"I've had a few months now to reflect on the Olympics and I came up with a couple ideas on what I want to focus on for the next four years leading up to the next Olympics," Parker said. "Almost all of the ideas center on a new mental strategy. With almost 25 years of shooting behind me there's not many technical aspects left to work on so for the next four years I will improve the sport psychology part."
Both Soldiers have moved to their next missions. Parker is looking forward to the chance of coaching the younger shooters on the team this next year while Richmond is preparing for his second deployment with the unit sometime next spring.
There were hundreds of athletes who came back from the Olympics without a victory under their belts, and Richmond and Parker have both used the experience as a valuable tool to store away for those high-pressure situations sure to arise in a competition sometime the next four years.
"It was a tough pill to swallow but, as all Soldiers do, if we get knocked down we get back up and keep going forward," Richmond said. "The experience actually made me a better shooter and winning a gold medal in my first match since the Olympics against the world's best proved it."