Shooting usually receives its biggest buzz on the first full day of the Olympics, when it awards the first medal of the Games in the women's 10-meter air rifle, one of 15 events over three disciplines -- pistol, rifle and shotgun. The women's air rifle final leads off again this year, beginning at 11 a.m. local time (6 a.m. Eastern Time) the day after the opening ceremony. Shooting could be considered a case study in recent Olympic medal trends. The U.S. has always fared well, but the Soviet Union and later Russia led the medal table in 1988, 1992 and 1996 before ceding to China, the most medaled nation over the last three Olympics.
It could be more of the same in London given China topped the medal table at the most recent world championships in 2010.
The U.S. is the most decorated nation in Olympic shooting history with 103 medals, 50 gold. It won two gold, two silver and two bronze medals in 2008. All six medalists are back on the team this year. New names have also emerged as medal threats. First-time Olympian Joshua Richmond is the world champion in double trap. Jason Parker, 22nd and 23rd in two Beijing events, is ranked No. 3 in 50-meter rifle 3 positions. Then there's Matthew Emmons, who owns an Olympic gold and silver but could have won even more if he didn't fire at the wrong target in 2004 or if his rifle didn't accidentally go off in 2008. Emmons was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2010.
The host nation's best hope for a medal comes in the double trap in, potentially, one of the rare showdowns across all sports between the U.S. and Great Britain for gold. The British have won just two shooting medals in the last 20 years, but Wilson is ranked second behind Richmond and broke a world record by hitting 198 of 200 targets at a competition in March.
Something's gotta give in the women's 50-meter rifle 3 positions. Pfeilschifter is one of the most decorated shooters of all time not to win an Olympic medal. She won a junior world title in 1991 and followed up with three senior world titles, six World Cup final golds and a slew of world records. Pfeilschifter is ranked second in the world in both the 10-meter air rifle and 50-meter rifle 3 positions, but expressed doubt that Germany would enter her in both competitions at the Olympics. "They think I will do better competing only in the 50-meter rifle 3-position event," the 41-year-old told The Associated Press after winning the 10-meter Olympic test event in April. "But I hope that they will change their mind." Pfeilschifter's best finishes over four Olympics were a fourth, a fifth and two sixths. If she only competes in the 50-meter, her biggest competition will be countrywoman Engleder, who has also failed to medal in two previous Olympics. Engleder edged Pfeilschifter for gold at the 2010 world championships.
Georgios Achilleos and Alessandra Perilli carry the respective hopes of Cyrpus and San Marino, two nations with zero Olympic medals. Achilleos, ranked third in men's skeet, won the 2007 world title and placed fifth in Beijing, his best finish in three Olympics. Perilli, ranked seventh in women's trap, was fourth at the 2009 world championships and won two World Cups in 2011.
Live pigeons were once the targets in Olympic shooting, but that practice was put to bed after the 1900 Paris Games. ... Australian double trap shooter Russell Mark made headlines in May by losing a bet and apparently agreeing to wear a mankini (made famous by Borat) at the opening ceremony. "Oh, I must've been intoxicated," said Mark, 48, to The Telegraph. "Anyway, a lot of people would think a mankini might look better than the uniform they've nominated for us, so I don't know if it's such a bad thing." It was later decided instead that Mark's wife, also an Olympic shooter, would appear in a men's magazine.