By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer
West Virginia University sophomore in engineering who took home the very first Olympic gold awarded at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio — Ginny Thrasher — was honored at the WVU-Missouri Gold Rush game September 3 at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown.
Thrasher was met with a standing ovation and chants of “U-S-A,” “U-S-A,” from the home game crowd of 60,000 at half-time during the Pride of West Virginia Mountaineer Marching Band’s performance.
Thrasher won the gold Aug. 6 in the women’s 10-meter air rifle competition, putting the USA into an immediate lead in the gold medal count. Thrasher beat silver medalist Du Li of China in the final round with a total of 208.0, setting an Olympic record in the finals. Du Li finished with 207.0, and Yi Siling, also of China, won the bronze.
Thrasher, a Virginia native, was a perceived long shot to bring home the gold. At 19, she’s the youngest member of the Olympic Team USA shooting team. And she was up against veteran Olympic gold medalists like Du Li.
And though she was a dedicated practitioner and consistent shooter (shooting for her alma mater West Springfield High School’s rifle team since ninth grade), she’d only been shooting for about five years.
She was the first-ever freshman shooter to win two individual NCAA titles. She won five medals at the 2015 USA Shooting National Championships for Rifle/Pistol. (For more information about these and Thrasher’s other awards information, visit the WVUSports.com.)
Thrasher became interested in shooting through her family’s interest in hunting and shooting. Her father, retired from the Air Force, her two older brothers, and her grandfather are avid hunters. On a hunting trip, after bagging her first whitetail deer, she said she became hooked.
“When I was in eighth grade, my grandfather took me hunting,” she recounted. “I went and got my first deer and I liked the adrenaline.”
Additionally, she said, “Shooting is a family thing for us. All of my family is very supportive of my shooting career, and they’ve had a great influence on me.”
Thrasher said she also credits her success to her coach and two-time Olympian Jon Hammond and sports psychologist Raymond Prior. Both help her in equally but differently advantageous ways to master her skill with the proper mindset.
Thrasher says they’ve helped her keep a commitment to “the process” (what she refers to often) as opposed to the prize.
“I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the process,” she states. “When you are emotionally attached to the outcome, that’s not something that’s in your control. You’re a roller-coaster of a person, so when you’re emotionally attached to the process, which you can control and can work on every day, you’re much more consistent in shooting and life.”
That process-focused style certainly has paid off for Thrasher. Her first shot in Rio was a bulls-eye!
Right after her Olympic gold win, Thrasher said, “This is very special for me. For me to start Rio 2016 with a gold medal for the USA makes me incredibly proud.”
Her coach certainly was full of pride, too.
“I’m so proud of Ginny and what she’s achieved in Rio,” Hammond said in a school-issued press release. “She has continued to raise the bar all year, and a gold medal is such an incredible way to begin her Olympic career.”
Ginny herself – not one to abide in present accolades – looks to her future and a continued pursuit of excellence and mastery of her shooting skill.
Thrasher says she hopes to have at least a few more Olympic opportunities ahead of her. “For me, having that less expectation, maybe has helped me, but now I’m ready to handle that expectation and to go forward with my career,” she stated.
Two other current WVU students from Canada’s women’s soccer team and bronze medalists Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence were also recognized at the Gold Rush game halftime show, along with Thrasher.