Ex-Cats

Former Kentucky All-American wins Olympic gold in rifle

Henri Junghänel of Germany bites his gold medal during the award ceremony for men's 50-meter rifle prone finals, at the Olympic Shooting Center at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016.
Henri Junghänel of Germany bites his gold medal during the award ceremony for men's 50-meter rifle prone finals, at the Olympic Shooting Center at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. AP

He lost concentration at the worst possible moment. It was only a split second, yet could have cost him a spot in the finals.

Henri Junghänel told himself that if he made it to finals, he wouldn’t let that happen again.

The German shooter got through, then followed through.

Junghänel, a member of the University of Kentucky’s national championship rifle team in 2011, repeatedly shot deep into the 10-ring to open the finals Friday and went on to win the Olympic gold medal in men’s 50-meter prone rifle. He broke the Olympic finals record with a score of 209.5.

“I was really mad at myself for that last shot (in qualifying),” he said. “I kind of lost focus and pretty much told myself it’s a new game. I have a new chance, don’t do a stupid shot like that again.”

Junghänel appeared in good shape toward the end of qualifying, but a final shot of 9.4 jeopardized his chance for the finals. He squeaked through by 0.5 and had four near-perfect 10.8 shots in the finals. He had just one shot below 10, a 9.9 on his 14th shot. South Korea’s Kim Jonghyun gained ground late in the finals, but Junghaenel hit 10.7 and 10.4 with his final two shots.

Kim won the silver medal and Russia’s Kirill Grigoryan took the bronze.

“At the beginning, I was really nervous and I was happy I could make the shots work pretty well,” Junghänel said. “They were really deep and the shakiness went away.”

Junghänel, the current world record holder in 50-meter prone with a score of 211.2 points, went into the finals with confidence from two events: Winning the Rio test event in April and Barbara Engleder’s gold the day before.

Engleder won Germany’s first shooting gold in women’s 3-position rifle on Thursday, taking some of the pressure off Junghänel to break the shooting-medal ice for his country.

“It definitely helped that we were successful already,” he said.

Junghänel’s journey to the top of the podium took him from Germany to Kentucky to Rio.

He heard about the shooting programs at American universities through a friend and started contacting coaches there. He chose Kentucky after a visit and spent four years shooting for the Wildcats, earning All-America honors each year.

“I am very excited for Henri,” UK Coach Harry Mullins said, according to a news release by UK Athletics. “He is a great person, and I could not be happier for him. … While at Kentucky he showed us the passion and drive that it takes to be a champion. … Seeing him on the podium achieving his dream is what makes being around these athletes better than anything else.”

Junghänel graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2013 and went back to Germany to earn his master’s degree, which he completed last month.

“In Europe, we mainly have competitions over the summertime,” Junghänel said. “In the United States, you have competitions in the wintertime, so it added up pretty well to gain as much competition experience as possible.”

Kim tied Grigoryan in the bronze-medal round and hit a perfect 10.9 to win a shoot-off to take silver. Grigoryan hit 9.7 on his final shot to earn bronze.

“I didn’t expect to get the silver medal,” Kim said through an interpreter. “I had the opportunity for bronze and I took it.”

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