BY JEFF FALK
For Jamie Beyerle-Gray, it’s always been more about the competition than winning.
More about the rifle than the bulls-eye.
More about the Olympic spirit than the gold medal.
On Tuesday afternoon, Beyerle-Gray announced publicly that she will forgo retirement and strive to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Beyerle-Gray confirmed her decision on the steps of the Lebanon Municipal building, moments after she and fellow Olympian Amy Tran-Swensen were honored by the Lebanon County Commissioners for competing in the recently completed Games of the XXX Olympiad in London.
Unsure of her international rifle-shooting future going into the recent Summer Olympics, Beyerle-Gray disclosed that she decided to continue it while in London. But the decision was reached in spite of her gold medal in the women’s 50-meter, three-position competition, not because of it.
“Going into this Olympics, I thought I could retire after these games,” said Beyerle-Gray. “But being in the Olympic village and catching the Olympic spirit, it’s addicting. I thought it was going to be a difficult decision, but it wasn’t.
“Yeah, the gold medal pretty much helped me make up my mind,” continued Beyerle-Gray. “I knew I’d come home after the games and think about it. You want more as an athlete. And I want more.
“But it’s not all about the medals. That’s the icing on the cake. The Olympic experience is something that can’t be duplicated.”
Tuesday, August 14th was officially proclaimed Jamie Beyerle-Gray Day in Lebanon County. About 300 people – friends, family, fans. media and dignitaries – gathered at noon outside the courthouse to celebrate Beyerle-Gray’s – as well as Lebanon County’s and the United States’ – gold medal and to greet Tran-Swensen, who could not attend due to logistical difficulties.
Ten days earlier in Great Britain, Beyerle-Gray, a 2002 graduate of Cedar Crest High School and a member of the Palmyra sportsmen club, had garnered the first Olympic medal ever won by a Lebanon County native. Meanwhile, the competitive portion of the London Olympics was a huge disappointment for United States women’s field hockey goalie Tran-Swensen, who is regarded as the top player at her position in the world.
After a seemingly endless parade of politicians, decrees and proclamations – isn’t every year an election year? – Beyerle-Gray addressed the enthusiastic throng of well-wishers for about ten minutes. At one point, a chant of U-S-A, U-S-A broke out among the audience.
“I don’t know what I expected,” Beyerle-Gray added. “Just to see so many young kids is great. That’s what it’s all about.”
Now 28, Beyerle-Gray will be 32 years old when the next Summer Olympics roll around. At that time, Beyerle-Gray will still possesses most of her physical skills and eye sight, and have about 12 years of national and international shooting experience stuffed down her barrel.
“I definitely have some back issues,” said Beyerle-Gray, who competed at the Beijing games in 2008, “that’s my biggest concern. Some of it is my body and if I’ll be able to hold up. It is a sport. I am an athlete. And I do have injuries.”
Beyerle-Gray’s relatively recent marriage to fellow marksman Hank Gray and an assistant coaching position at Columbus State University in Georgia had fueled the speculation that London might be her final Olympic competition. But Beyerle-Gray truly seems to relish the international competition, the lifestyle associated with it and being an ambassador for her sport.
“I’ll take a couple of months off and then I’ll be back in training for Rio,” said Beyerle-Gray. “You’re always working toward something. I shoot five or six days a week, four hours on the range each day and some PT (physical therapy).
“As far as coaching goes, I’ll continue helping out at CSU,” Beyerle-Gray continued. “I’ll put in as much time as I possibly can. It’s my passion. I really want to give back to my sport, and the way to do that is coaching.”
In some ways, Beyerle-Gray’s gold medal has affected her life forever. In others, Beyerle-Gray can’t be changed.
But through it all she has remained poised, respectful, courteous, genuine, accommodating and approachable. All the attention has certainly allowed Beyerle-Gray to explore her out-going side.
“I think a little bit, but I’ve always been a talker,” said Beyerle-Gray. “I don’t go up to people and start conversations. But if someone talks to me, I’ll definitely start talking. Talking to the media definitely helps you out. You get used to talking in front of people and giving speeches.”
While Beyerle-Gray has committed to at least four more years of her sporting discipline, Tran-Swensen’s future is a bit more murky. When asked whether or not Tran-Swenson will continue to play international field hockey, her mother, Sue Tran said that she is undecided at this point.
Now 32, Tran-Swensen would be 36 in 2016. Also a relative newly-wed, Tran-Swensen has said that she and her husband have been considering the possibility of starting a family.