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Competing in her first Pan American Games, Amanda Chudoba-Obrigewitch set herself on a daring mission.
The 24-year-old trap shooter took aim at a top-six finish in Toronto. That was one tough target for the Spruce Grove native, who took to the range in front of her biggest audience to date on July 13 amidst a humid, hazy morning at the Pan Am Shooting Centre.
By the time the morning sun reached its peak and began its path to set, Chudoba-Obrigewitch stood proudly atop a podium with O Canada playing in the background and a gold medal hanging around her neck.
Chudoba-Obrigewitch arrived in Ontario with a big and boisterous cheerleading crew featuring her parents Brian and Tina, husband Jason, sister Ashley and her boyfriend Travis as well as in-laws Don and Wanda.
After a quick trip to Niagara Falls, the fun began on July 10 with the opening ceremonies at the Rogers Centre, where Chudoba-Obrigewitch joined the parade of 719 Canadian athletes thrilling the home crowd after a dazzling display featuring Cirque du Soleil.
“You would have thought this was the biggest games in the whole world, with 43,000 fans packed in there,” she said. “The crowd was crazy, to walk in with all our gear and the TV cameras, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
Chudoba-Obrigewitch qualified for the Games too late for her family to get tickets to the opening ceremonies, but they found a restaurant nearby with all TVs focused on the festivities. She managed to find a CBC camera and made the national TV broadcast for a good seven seconds during the parade, sending her biggest fans into a frenzy.
“My family was cheering like crazy, the waitress said it was quite the scene,” Chudoba-Obrigewitch said. “It was quite surreal waving to the fans.”
After the ceremonies, Chudoba-Obrigewitch had two days to prepare until the competition.
“Everything was centred on getting to the range, utilizing practice time to get set,” she said.
But practice did not go particularly well on those days.
“It was one of the toughest ranges I have shot at in the past couple years,” she said. “It was a tough background, it was tough air because it was extremely hazy here, and it was so hot, 30 C plus every day and it felt like 100 per cent humidity.”
Chudoba-Obrigewitch knew, however, that if she fretted about practice runs, she would be more stressed and worried going into the competition.
“You only get a certain amount of 25s (the amount of shots during a shooting round), so you don’t want to waste them in practice,” she laughed. “My dad always told me not to worry about practice, I always had the ability to turn my game and my mind on for competition.”
Chudoba-Obrigewitch’s struggles would persist, however, into the qualification round on competition day. Shooting amongst a field of 10 competitors, all of whom she had competed with before, she managed to hit 60 out of 75 targets.
“My qualification round did not (represent) how I have been shooting lately, I struggled,” said Chudoba-Obrigewitch. “The targets were extremely hard, none of us competitors were 100 per cent on our game.”
Nonetheless, Chudoba-Obrigewitch’s score placed her third in the field and earned her a spot in the semifinals. By winning one of the six spots in the next round, Chudoba-Obrigewitch had already achieved the goal she set out to accomplish.
Just one shot
In the qualification round, shooters are allowed to take two shots at each plate launched into the air. Hitting the target with the second shot results in the same amount of points as hitting it with the first shot.
In the semifinals, shooters have just one shot to hit the target, which Chudoba-Obrigewitch says benefited her style.
“I excel in single-shot shooting. I really concentrate on making my first shot, and every one after that is a bonus,” she said. “It’s my strongpoint. When I don’t have that second shot to rely on, I usually step up my game.”
Chudoba-Obrigewitch played to her strength and hit 13 out of 15 targets in the semis, tying her for first with American Kayle Browning.
To achieve that score, Chudoba-Obrigewitch hit eight straight targets at the end of her round, while American Kimberley Bowers missed three of her final eight, allowing Chudoba-Obrigewitch to overtake Bowers down the stretch and advance with two more targets.
The gold medal match
“I have shot qualifying rounds with Kayle probably a dozen times over the past few years,” said Chudoba-Obrigewitch. “She is a very strong competitor, the Americans really wanted that Olympic quota spot (awarded to the winning nation), so I knew they would be tough to beat.”
But already guaranteed a silver medal at worst, Chudoba-Obrigewitch entered the finals at-ease, knowing that she had already exceeded her expectations.
“It was the calmest I have ever been for a final, just because I would have been satisfied with either (gold or silver),” she said.
That composure led to a hot start for Chudoba-Obrigewitch in the finals, as she hit five of her first six targets, while Browning hit just two. Chudoba-Obrigewitch maintained a three-point lead until round 10 out of 15, but Browning closed the gap to just one by the final round of the competition.
“All I had to do was hit my last shot, but I had been struggling with straight targets all day,” said Chudoba-Obrigewitch. “I remember thinking, did it have to be a straightaway?”
The clay targets that shoot out of the machine either left, right or straight. Chudoba-Obrigewitch says that straightaway shots are her downfall, whereas Browning has a more well-rounded skillset.
“I shot straight over top of it and missed it, forcing us to go to a shoot-off,” said Chudoba-Obrigewitch, after Browning made her final shot to tie the score. “All I could think was that I had this medal in the bag, and I just made it more difficult for myself.”
Chudoba-Obrigewitch had to shake off her last shot quickly, as the gold medal was about to be decided in a single-elimination shoot-off. She would shoot first, and if she missed, a Browning hit would have given the American the gold.
“I knew it was a now or never type of thing, but in the finals it’s all rights and lefts, so I knew I had the leg up,” explained Chudoba-Obrigewitch. “I had to just go for it, and not be cautious about it.”
After both women made their first shots, Chudoba-Obrigewitch made her second shot, but Browning’s bullet sailed wide of the plate. Game over. Gold medal Canada!
“To have a hundred people there cheering their loudest for you, it took a few minutes for the shock to wear off,” said Chudoba-Obrigewitch. “We went right into medal ceremony, and to win a medal, it was even more exciting than I ever expected.”
Aside from adding to Canada’s medal total for the competition, Chudoba-Obrigewitch also earned Canada a quota spot for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with the victory.
That sets up a Canadian team trial shoot-off early next year to determine the Olympic-bound trap shooter.
“I’ll be there shooting for it,” she said. “I hope it’s me!”
By Mitch Goldenberg