LONDON – Whether it’s football, baseball or basketball, describing a sport as a “game of inches” is a well-worn cliché in the sports world.
For Eric Uptagrafft, the difference between fighting for an Olympic medal and early elimination is not a matter of inches – more like a millimeter or two.
Uptagrafft – who was born in Spokane and graduated from University High – competed in the men’s 50-meter prone rifle competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games on Friday. He was one of 50 marksmen vying for a spot in the final round, in which the top eight qualifiers battle for medals.
He ended with a score of 594 – which means he hit a 10.4 mm diameter target from 50 meters away 594 times out of 600 attempts. That was good enough for 14th place. If he had hit just one more target, he would have found himself in a shoot-off to make the last eight.
“I didn’t feel like I performed that bad,” said the 46-year-old, who last appeared in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. “I had a couple of shots that I wish I could call back but I was a little off on the wind at the start, and a little bit of nerves for the first two or three shots, but that all calmed down and it was a little too late.
“Unlike most other sports where adrenaline is your friend, shooting it’s the opposite.
“So you’re really wanting to stay as calm as possible, keep your adrenaline at a manageable level, and I was off for about three shots. And that’s all it took,” said Uptagrafft, who is an instructor/shooter for the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit in Fort Benning, GA, and lives in nearby Phenix City, Ala.
The gold was won by Belarussian Sergei Martynov, a legend in the sport who shot a perfect 600 in the qualifying round set a world record total in the final. Silver went to Lionel Cox of Belgium, and bronze was won by Crotia’s Rasmond Debevec.
Uptagrafft felt this experience was much better than in 1996 when he finished 30th.
“I’ve got a lot more experience now than I had in ‘96,” he said. “I’ve won a lot of things, I’ve conquered some of those demons, so I felt a lot more comfortable. I was actually pleasantly shocked at how much more comfortable I was this time than ‘96. I remember as soon as I pressed the match button in ‘96 my heart rate was through the roof for the entire match. It didn’t slow down a bit. And this time I pushed it and it was a little bit higher at the start for the first three shots and it was just like shooting practice – just not a good practice – but it wasn’t out of control.”
Uptagrafft’s wife Sandra is also a shooter on the U.S. team. She competed last Sunday in the women’s 10-meter air pistol, finishing 28th.
He said “it’s a little nerve-wracking” to watch each other compete.
“But we go to matches together all the time, so it’s not that different. The only big difference is we don’t actually get to stay together. And that’s not even that big of a deal,” he said, adding that they’ll be celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary on Sunday by going to the gold medal tennis finals at Wimbledon.
“We’ve always said we’d like to go to Wimbledon and there’s no way we could afford to do it at the regular time so during the Olympics what better opportunity.”
By the time the Rio 2016 Games roll around, Uptagrafft will be 50 years old, and he hopes an Olympian yet again.
“My enlistment’s not up for the army anytime soon, so I’d like to come back for 2016 and give it another whirl,” he said.