TOKYO (July 25, 2021) — University of Kentucky rifle star Will Shaner cemented his place as the best male air rifle shooter in the world Sunday, winning gold in the men's air rifle competition on day two of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics inside the Asaka Shooting Range.
The gold medal is historic for Shaner and the United States as it's the first ever for the Americans in men's air rifle and came after the three-time UK All-American set an Olympic record score in the final.
"Still trying to believe it. It has been a long time, though, growing up in the sport, progressing. To finally have (the gold medal), it's amazing," Shaner told USA Today afterwards. "I just did the same thing as I did there and just worked out the problems I had and just knew that it was going to get me to where I wanted to be."
After the first competition stage of the final, Shaner had a top score of 105.8 and he never looked back, securing the Olympic record with a 251.6. All told, Shaner fired 82 shots Sunday with all of them being on target. His lowest score was a 10.1.
Shaner posted the third-best qualifying score to earn a spot in the final, shooting a 630.8. Shaner sealed his spot in the final with an impressive fifth series, earning a 106.2 score. The 106+ score in the fifth series tied the third highest series score of the qualification round. He was one of six competitors in the entire competition to post a score of 106 or higher in a series.
Shaner, a senior from Colorado Springs, Colorado, majoring in economics in the Gatton College of Business and Economics, is one of two Wildcats competing for USA Shooting at the summer games. UK star Mary Tucker made her Olympic debut on day one of the games, finishing sixth overall in the women's air rifle final. Shaner and Tucker will both compete in the air rifle mixed team event on July 27, while Tucker will also compete in the women's three-position smallbore on July 31.
In his final tune up before heading to Tokyo for the Olympics in late June, Shaner performed flawlessly at the ISSF World Cup in Croatia, winning the gold medal in men's air rifle 10 meters. Shaner led from start to finish at the event, finishing with 250.5 points. The event took place at Pampas Shooting Range. Shiner also shined at the 2021 National Junior Olympic Championships, winning gold in smallbore and silver in air rifle.
Earlier this year, Shaner led the Wildcats to their third national championship posting the highest ever team score in the modern format at the NCAA Rifle Championships. The national championship capped an impressive season for the Wildcats that included a new school-record team score and a share of the Great America Rifle Conference Regular-Season Championship.
Shaner earned first-team All-America honors this past season from the Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association for aggregate, smallbore and air rifle. It was the third straight season the CRCA has honored Shaner as an All-American after he was first-team All-America last season and earned CRCA Rookie of the Year and All-America honors as a freshman.
Shaner had strong averages in both disciplines this season, earning a 589.25 in smallbore and 595.667 in air rifle for an aggregate average of 1184.917. Shaner finished second in air rifle at the NCAA Championships last week. Shaner was one of three athletes in the nation to score a 595 or higher in smallbore this season. In air rifle, Shaner was one of five athletes in the nation to post a 599 or higher in air rifle. Shaner scored 1190 or higher aggregates twice this season and was one of three athletes in the nation to accomplish that feat more multiple times.
Former Wildcat Henrik Larsen competed for Norway in the event, finishing with the 11th-best qualifying score of 627.4. The high mark was just outside of him earning a spot in the eight-person final.
In his only season in Lexington, Larsen won the individual air rifle national title at the 2018 NCAA Championships and led the Wildcats to the their second national championship. Throughout the season, Larsen posted the highest aggregate score of any Wildcat in every match. In his lone year in Lexington he set school records across the board in smallbore, aggregate, and air rifle and was named a first team All-American in all three disciplines.
Read more on all 22 Wildcats competing in the Olympics here.
As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.
In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.