Three years ago, then-West Springfield High junior Ginny Thrasher was the 45th-best junior air rifle shooter in the U.S. On Saturday morning, the 19-year-old NCAA national champion stepped into the first medal event of the Rio Games — the women’s 10-meter air rifle finals — and did this:
— USA Shooting (@USAShooting) August 6, 2016
American Ginny Thrasher wins the first gold medal of the Olympics in women's 10m air rifle. Upset, neither AP nor SI picked her to medal.
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) August 6, 2016
That's what it means to win Olympic gold!
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 6, 2016
— Sportstar (@sportstarweb) August 6, 2016
Thrasher, a Springfield, Va., native who first fired a gun five years ago when she felled a whitetail deer while hunting with her grandfather, was one of eight competitors to emerge from the 50-woman qualification round Saturday morning.
She began her finals bid with a stunning bull’s-eye that yielded a perfect score of 10.9, eventually outlasting Serbia’s top-ranked Andrea Arsovic and China’s defending Olympic champion Siling Yi. Not that the 10.9 score gave her an extra jolt of confidence.
“I thought, ‘Oh no. It is very hard to come back from a 10.9,’ ” Thrasher said at a news conference shortly after the competition.
“I am honestly just happy to be here. This is beyond my wildest dreams . . . Once you get into the finals, anything can happen.”
The final duel came down to Thrasher and Li Du, China’s 34-year-old who won gold medals in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Thrasher, well, thrashed her veteran opponent by a full point, a wide margin in perhaps the Games’ most precise sport.
“This is very special for me. For me to start out Rio 2016 with a gold medal for the U.S.A. makes me incredibly proud,” Thrasher said. “I’m happy to positively represent my country.”
Earlier this year, Thrasher became the only freshman ever to sweep both NCAA individual air rifle titles while helping West Virginia capture its fourth straight national title.
Sarah Scherer, Thrasher’s 25-year-old teammate, finished eighth among the event’s 50 competitors. Competing in her final Games, Scherer sat out for much of the past two years after undergoing two major back surgeries to repair herniated discs.