Gawker's Guide to the Olympic Sports You're Pretty Sure Don't Exist: Shooting

Welcome to the Gawker Guide to the Obscure Olympic Sports You Have Never Heard Of Or Given A Damn About. Next up: Shooting for sport! The 21st Most Important Olympic sport.

What the hell is going on here?: Men and women shoot at targets with guns. This is a sport that seems to mostly involve only a single arm and a powerful index finger, but really, it is so much more than that. (I have never fired a gun. I suspect it is so much more than that.) That said, it almost certainly requires no traditional athletic coordination or skill.

Olympic shooters fire one of three guns: the rifle, the pistol, and the shotgun. The pistol and rifle events are fairly similar. In the early rounds, shooters fire at a 10-ring target; those who advance to the finals must fire at a 10-ring target whose rings have been split up into 10 score zones. They do all of this in an enclosed shooting galley that looks something like a bowling alley, only instead of the audience watching and clapping politely as competitors roll balls into pins, the audience watches and claps politely as competitors fire deadly weapons across the room. Hope they're accurate! Ha, ha.

They are generally very accurate. In shotgun events, the shooters stand in a huge field and fire at small orange discs that fly through the air some 60 feet at high speeds that can change with the wind. The discs are just over four inches wide. Despite all of this, the rifle shooters actually tend to hit the orange discs, which usually explode in a really satisfying little burst. That is the nicest thing I can say about shooting, and I watched every minute of shooting during the Beijing Olympics for work.

Cool reference to bring up during broadcast to impress your friends if you have any: At the 1900 Olympics, held in Paris, two events actually used pigeons as the targets. "Too bad they can't take Sparky here," you can say, laughing genially, as you gesture toward your neighbor's Corgi.

Your prepackaged heartstrings/oh-no-he-didn't storyline:

  • Matt Emmons, pictured above. Ever heard of the yips? It's this strange physio-psychological phenomenon wherein highly trained athletes suffer sudden, almost inexplicable collapses in skill when it is needed the most. Matt Emmons, a 31-year-old Team USA rifle competitor from Brown Mills, N.J., has a history of the yips at the Olympics. In the 50m rifle event in Athens in 2004, he held a sizeable lead over his opponents going into the final round, he lost it. On his final shot, he fired at the wrong target for a score of zero and finished eighth. In 2008, in Beijing, he fell from first place in the 50m rifle event once again, when he fired too early. He finished in fourth. Will Emmons fuck up this year??? Tune in to find out.
  • Relevant inspirational video:

    Sport rating: This is like a 3. No one breaks a sweat. There is even an event called "50m Rifle Prone." "Prone" means that the shooters are literally lying down during competition.

    Sex rating: Do you have a thing for humans who are incredibly accurate with deadly weapons? 5.

    Nerd rating: 7. Masculine edge, but still a creepy basis, kinda.

    Perfect for: Pacifists who still really like firearms and are not sure what to do about that, anyone with a firearm fetish.

    Where you can watch it: You'll find some coverage on the NBC Sports Network, formerly known as Versus and available in certain cable packages. (Check out NBC's schedule, sortable by sport, for full coverage.) If you have a cable provider (or, you know, a generous friend with a cable provider), you can sign in on NBC's Olympics website to watch all coverage. Make an original drinking game of it: Every time they shoot, you take a shot.