BY JEFF FALK
Not unlike the rest of us mere mortals, Jamie Beyerle-Gray’s future is clouded with uncertainty. But should she decide to walk away from international shooting, she will have done so on her terms, and on top.
You see there’s no higher place in international competition than the gold medal podium at the Olympics.
Beyerle-Gray is expected to decide in the next few months whether or not she will continue a discipline she started when she was five years old in Lebanon. For now, she’s deriving way too much from the enjoyment that comes from reaching the pinnacle of one’s pursuit.
“I don’t know if it has totally sunk in yet,” said Beyerle-Gray, by phone on Wednesday. “Of course I felt all emotional standing on the podium. Just thinking about it I get emotional. It’s still kind of a busy time.
“It’s just been awesome,” Beyerle-Gray continued. “Our sport doesn’t get that much media attention, so to be in the middle of that has been fun. I actually enjoy teaching the public about what I’m doing. With some of the things that have gone on, firearms sometimes get dumped into the mess. We try to be ambassadors for the sport.”
Four days earlier, on Saturday, in London, England, Beyerle-Gray, a 2004 graduate of Cedar Crest High School, captured the gold medal in the 50-meter, three-position rifle shooting competition in the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
“The biggest thing is you look back at all the hard work you put in, all the time you put in,” said Beyerle-Gray. “But you can’t do this on your own. It’s everyone. It’s the support of your community. It’s amazing that this little medal can mean so much. Actually, it’s pretty heavy.
“Lebanon County has just been so supportive,” Beyerle-Gray added. “I couldn’t ask to be from a better hometown.”
Anyone who saw Beyerle-Gray’s gold-medal performance on television can attest to how emotional and dramatic it was, even though in international shooting terms the competition wasn’t all that close. Beyerle’s final score of 691.9 was a new Olympic record, as was her qualifying/preliminary score of 592.
Following a somewhat sluggish beginning from the prone position, Beyerle-Gray really hit her stride in the standing and kneeling portions of the competition. Then with a two-point lead in the finals, Beyerle-Gray protected her lead with some steady and clutch marksmanship.
“I can tell you about every single second of the competition,” Beyerle-Gray said. “I started prone kind of rough, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to tighten up.’ I was actually a little frustrated. But it worked out. Going into the standing, I was down like two points, but it wasn’t bad. The Russian girl had started her match with a 300. But it was kind of motivating to me, like ‘She’s doing well, I can too.’
“I rolled right through the standing,” Beyerle-Gray continued. “It was the best standing match I ever shot in my life. Going into kneeling, I knew I was at the top of the leader board. That’s when I went to my coach and said, ‘Give me some inspiration. I need some inspiration.’ He told me, ‘Don’t force something that isn’t there.’ That was pretty much the match. In the finals, the last two shots were my toughest shots. I remembered back to Beijing (in 2008) when I had a bad last shot and I didn’t get a medal. I told myself, ‘No this isn’t going to happen again. I’m ready for this.’ I ran a process and took a great shot, and it was the best feeling ever.”
It wasn’t the best shooting Beyerle-Gray had ever done in international competition, but it was close. What it came down to was that Saturday was simply Beyerle-Gray’s day.
“I’ve shot a 593 before,” said Beyerle-Gray of her qualifying score, ‘but yeah, it was awesome. It’s still one of the top scores I’ve ever shot.
“Coming in, I knew I was shooting really well,” added Beyerle-Gray. “My practices were going so well. The prone felt good. The standing felt good. The kneeling felt good. Mentally it definitely helped that this was my second Olympics. I talked to my sports psychologist before the competition and it helped me focus on the things I do well. I had a match plan and I really followed it.”
“After I took my tenth shot in the final, that’s when I felt confident I had won,” said Beyerle-Gray. “You never have a comfortable lead. I will never, ever say I have a comfortable lead. There’s too many things that can happen.
“You never really know what it’s going to feel like,” added Beyerle-Gray. “It’s true that you don’t know how you’re going to react. It’s hard to put into words. Knowing that this medal isn’t only your’s, it’s also your nation’s, is amazing.”
The 28-year-old Beyerle-Gray will be in her early 30s when the next summer Olympics roll around. She will still possess the physical tools to compete at a high level internationally, and she still seems to have the enthusiasm for her sport that drives athletes to do their best.
But curious, well-rounded and giving, it may be that Beyerle-Gray chooses to focus her spirit in other directions, one of which will ultimately be coaching.
“It’s been a dream and goal of mine since I went to college,” said Beyerle-Gray of the Olympic gold, “or before that when I realized shooting was what I wanted to pursue. Everyday you train for it. We don’t go to the Olympics to compete. We want to bring home a medal.”