In a few weeks, Kerrville will be the center of Olympic dreams for more than 275 shooters looking to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The first phase of the U.S. Olympic Trials are set for Sept. 7-21 at the Hill Country Shooting Sports Center, and some of the best in the world will be on hand to compete, including two-time Olympic gold medalist Vincent Hancock.
“Knowing that I get to have the first Olympic selection in my backyard is another blessing, because I get to come down here and practice all the time,” said Hancock, who won his first gold medal in the 2008 games in Beijing when he was 19.
Earlier this week, Hancock was training with several members of the U.S. junior national team at the expansive center in Kerrville, where many elite shooters come to train. Not only will the shooters come, but so will coaches, supporters and families making it one of the region’s biggest sporting events.
“Kerrville is big with this,” said Jack N. Burch II, the executive director of the center. “We have so many medalists who are going to be here for this event, and they’re here all the time anyway to train.”
The center also hosts a variety of other events and Burch, along with the Kerrville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the center has pumped more than $24 million in spending to the regional economy since 2006. That’s expected to surge when the Olympic Trials start their run next month.
“That’s not a bad number,” Burch said about the economic impact.
Through the years, Burch has been able to build the Hill Country Shooting Sports Center into a venue that can host world-class shooting competitions, to 4-H shooting competitions to certifications and training for law enforcement and the military. The center is also open to recreational shooters.
Burch said he’s been able to model the range based on the feedback of the hundreds of world-class shooters who come by to train on a regular basis, including Hancock, who won back-to-back golds in Beijing and at the London games in 2012.
“I’m going to be here for business in September and I plan on getting that business done,” Hancock said.
That business is made complicated by the challenging Hill Country sky and landscape that make this site so special for so many shooters.
“There are a lot of white, puffy clouds that make it very hard to see the target,” said Ellis, 18, of College Station, who will be competing in his first U.S. trials.
Hancock heartily agrees that the shooting landscape, especially as the breezes push the puffy clouds past, makes this one of the most unique places to shoot in the country, if not, the world.
“They have the machines to throw really great targets,” Hancock said. “But it’s the background of the sky.”
The second part of the U.S. Olympic Team selection will be held in March at a site to be determined, but for Hancock his dreams of winning a third gold medal are alive and well.
On this day, Hancock was working with Eli Ellis, who recently earned a silver medal in trap shooting at the U.S. Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs. As Ellis steadies his shotgun and fires at the target, the background is indeed challenging and the wind is shifting, but he smoothly connects with his target.
And this is what makes Burch probably the happiest — that connection with another generation of shooters.
“This is how we got this started,” Burch said. “Young people.”