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Athens 2004

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Commentary & Perspective

Sunday, August 15

Bade guns for gold, but comes up short

MARKOPOULO, Greece — Gunfire is not welcome in Greece. Could’ve sworn it said so right on the brochure.

But here it is, round after round, souring the air with sulfur and piercing the afternoon sky.

Pop, pop. Crack. Pop, pop.

Strange, but spectators aren’t running for cover or ducking under tables. They are actually cheering.

"These boys here can flat-out shoot," said Lance Bade, a U.S. shotgun specialist. "This is the best in the world right here."

Far away from the NBC cameras, there’s a whole different Olympiad to be found. Here, security is around to guard the equipment, not the athletes. That would be a cache of sporting weapons placed on nightly lockdown somewhere inside the stadium.

The competitors? Please. They can shoot an aspirin off a butterfly’s wing at 50 paces. They can take care of themselves.

At least most of them can. France’s Franck Dumoulin, an air pistol competitor, once shot himself in the hand during practice. A few months later, he broke his leg in a motorcycle accident. Inspector Clouseauhas nothing on this guy.

Australia’s Michael Diamond is considered the Michael Jordan of trap shooting, but he got himself into a little trouble, too. He went to a bowling alley with his girlfriend, got mad when she was flirting with another man, and a lover’s spat soon followed in the parking lot.

When Diamond was slapped with assault charges, his firearms license was automatically suspended. That posed quite a problem with his Olympic Trials looming, but thanks to some special finagling, Diamond was able to pursue his third consecutive gold medal in Greece.

If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of these guys, well, so is U.S. trap shooter Bret Erickson. In late June, his heart stopped for two full minutes. Which means he was actually dead. Luckily, his teammate, Mark Weeks, is an emergency medical technician and was there when Erickson collapsed on a running track.

Erickson is an accomplished shooter, and laughs that it took his death to finally gain a little notoriety. Still, if you think Erickson’s story is good, consider his teammate: Weeks has now saved two lives in the past three months, the first occurring when a fellow passenger collapsed while boarding a plane at Dulles Airport.

Yet on this day in Markopoulo — pronounced just like the game you played in the kiddy pool — there will be a new champion. Bade is the only American in the finals, and he’s having a nice go of it. The orange clay disc whirls out of the ground in unannounced directions, spinning off at different speeds, angles and altitudes. With near perfection, Bade instantly tracks an object only four inches in diameter, and shatters it into oblivion.

You wouldn’t want to challenge this guy in the video arcade, and you certainly wouldn’t want to be a deer in the forest when he packs up the hunting gear.

But then he misses. He misses again, and once more for good measure. Three times in four shots, the American has failed. He has shot himself in the foot, at least in the proverbial sense, and he knows how this looks.

"It looks bad," said Bade, 33. "The way it comes out, it looks like I choked."

Now his wife, Lisa, is pushing her way through the small media gathering. She hugs her husband. The embrace won’t stop, and they both start to cry. This is bad.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bade was living on $50 a month to pursue this dream. He finally gained admittance to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and started up his own landscaping business on the side. These days, business is not good, not when the owner needs to spend so much time practicing his sport.

Alas, he can do the math. Had he not choked away the silver medal, Bade would’ve carted off $65,000, $15,000 from the USOC and $50,000 in endorsements.

"I probably would’ve went and bought a new house," Bade said. "I’m not out there making a couple million dollars like a lot of the athletes here. In the smaller Olympic events like this, you’re doing it for the love. I guess I’ll go have a stiff drink tonight."

Bade hands his empty shotgun to a team coach, then watches wistfully from the fence as the medalists claim their prizes. The cold-blooded winner, Russia’s Alexei Alipov, shot a perfect score in the final round. Out of 150 targets in six rounds of competition, he misfired only once, leaving awestruck spectators with one conclusion:

Good thing the Cold War is over.

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COMMENTARY AND PERSPECTIVE

CHRISTINE BRENNAN | USA TODAY

Phelps' big win: Taking the challenge

BOB KRAVITZ | The Indianapolis Star

Americans have forgotten how to play as a team

DAN BICKLEY | The Arizona Republic

Bade guns for gold, but comes up short

IAN O'CONNOR | The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

Phelps, men’s hoops team prove that defeat is relative

MIKE LOPRESTI | Gannett News Service

U.S. basketball supremacy is ancient history

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