There is only one thing greater than ascending to the top of one’s sport, becoming the world’s greatest athlete in any given discipline. And that’s competing for and representing one’s country in international competition.
Jamie Beyerle Corkish was fortunate to experience both, but if pressed, and forced to choose one over the other, the selection wouldn’t even be close.
It doesn’t seem like nine years has passed since Corkish became what is believed to be the first and only Lebanon County native to ever capture an Olympic gold medal. Then, competing as Jamie Gray, the 2002 graduate of Cedar Crest High School, won the women’s 50-meter, three-position air rifle competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
The 2021 Summer Olympics will be contested in Tokyo from July 23 to August 8, and the pending competition provided Corkish with an opportunity to reflect on that special time in her life. While winning a gold medal as a member of Team USA has never defined Corkish as a person, it certainly continues to have a profound effect on her life, one that is now centered in Meridian, Idaho with her husband Mike and their children.
“There’s a saying from the movie Miracle ‘It’s not about the name on the back, it’s about the name on the front,’” said Corkish, who grew up in Lebanon as Jamie Beyerle. “It was then, and it still is, first and foremost, about competing for the United States and this great country we’re from. That comes first in my mind. But for me, it was also important competing as a female athlete.
“There is that part of it (being the best in the world), but that couldn’t have happened without having that support,” continued Corkish. “I didn’t have to fund myself. I had Team USA supporting me. There is that individual piece to it. It’s an individual sport. It’s you and the target. But before that, it’s never just you.”
Corkish entered the 2012 Summer Olympics in London ranked 12th in the world, but she established a new Olympic record with her final score of 691.9 points in the 50-meter, three-position air rifle event. She had also sent a new Olympic standard with a score of 592 in the preliminary/qualifying round.
With her performance, Corkish won the gold medal easily, over silver medalist Ivana Maksimovic of Serbria.
“In my first event, I put my site on crooked and it took me seven minutes to figure it out,” said Corkish. “But I always shot better in competition than I did in practice. I was super ready for The Games. As athletes, we talk about ‘in the zone’. It was easy. The match didn’t feel hard. But that’s why we prepare for competition. That’s why it was easy.
“But I think it was just all about the Olympic experience in general,” Corkish added. “You are there together, as Team USA. It’s all about the journey, and we as athletes had all gone through that journey to get there that summer. That’s emotional. You’re celebrating that journey with the world.”
Four years earlier, in Beijing, Corkish’s Summer Olympic experience hadn’t been as grand. In position for medals, Corkish, then 24, finished fifth in the women’s 50-meter three-position air rifle competition and fourth in the women’s 10-meter air rifle event.
But she turned that disappointment into motivation.
“I remember them as learning Games for me,” said Corkish. “I shot a bad shot on my last shot, and it took me out of a medal. But I needed that failure. It made me re-focus my training. You learn more from failure than you do from success. It was hard. I was upset. It was devastating to go from a medal position to fifth. But it was necessary.
“Honestly, its all about dedication and hard work,” Corkish continued. “When you set your mind to something, you have to stick to it. Are you willing to put in the work? You can say you have to put the work in, but you have to actually do it. It’s also about the people who support you on that journey. You’re an Olympian yourself, but your family, your friends, your coaches all have an impact.”
In the summer of 2012, Corkish returned to the United States and Lebanon as a conquering heroine. Her gold-medal accomplishment was celebrated with numerous events – too many to count – within and outside of Lebanon County.
Corkish graciously accommodated as many of the requests for her personal time as humanly possible, remaining true to the belief that her gold medal had resulted from everyone who impacted her life.
“It was awesome,” said Corkish, 37. “The support system from Lebanon was amazing. The support I received at the ceremony (at the courthouse) in the city of Lebanon was awesome. For me, it was about sharing. I’d have people come up to me and say, ‘Ooh, can I touch your medal?’ I’d tell them, ‘Of course, you can. It’s not mine.’ It’s super fun to share.”
In many ways, Corkish’s gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London was the culmination of a spectacular 12-year national and international shooting career that included gold medals and medals at such prestigious events as the World Cup and the World Championships.
“The big thing in shooting is that the Olympics is on the big stage,” said Corkish. “The Olympics are held on the top stage, but it isn’t the hardest event in the world to win. None of the other international shooting events gets as much media coverage as the Olympics. What makes it hard is that it puts you in the public’s eye. That’s what makes it more difficult.”
As Jamie Beyerle, Corkish began shooting BB gun at the age of eight, and she did most of her early local shooting at Palmyra Sporstmen’s Assocation. After graduating from Cedar Crest, Corkish matriculated to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, a nationally renowned shooting college.
Yet, despite all of her success over the years, Corkish never allowed it go to her head, remaining well-grounded and true to her Lebanon County upbringing.
“The big for me is: ‘What can I learn from it?’ “, said Corkish. “Nine years out and the question is, ‘How can I pass it on? There’s definitely the hard work. I’m always going to out work someone. Hard work is so important in my life.
“It’s also about learning from your failures,” Corkish added. “Everyone has failures, but it’s about how we come out of those failures. It’s also perseverance. Things are never going to go how we think they’re going to go.”
Not long after her gold-medal triumph in 2012, Corkish announced that she would begin training to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janerio. But a lingering back injury forced her to retire in 2014.
These days, Corkish fills the time once used for training with work as an operation training specialist with Intuit Quickbooks, as co-owner with husband Mike of a local brewery in Idaho, occasional coaching and raising their children.
“I didn’t think it was going to be too bad,” said Corkish, of her retirement from shooting. “But when you spend 20 years putting all your time and energy into the same sport, and then it’s gone, it’s a challenge. You’ve got to figure out real life. I think there are some times when I’m still trying to work out who I am without the shooting. You had all of this, but then they take away your children, they take away your family. That’s what it’s like when you retire from sports. It’s a different mindset.”
Because in all of sports, there is nothing like an Olympic gold medal.