Russian marksmen have since 1952 dominated the international shooting scene, and they are expected to carry off most of the honors at this Olympics. Though Sweden, Norway, Finland and Hungary have turned in formidable performances in recent years, none has been able to match the uniformly brilliant shooting records of the U.S.S.R.
The reasons for the Russian shooting supremacy are consistent with that country's other sporting endeavors. Unlike the general apathy which surrounds competitive shooting in the U.S., in Russia it is a pastime as popular as golf is here. Top shots like Anatoli Bogdanov and Vassily Borisov are national heroes, rewarded with enviable privileges befitting their station.
At Caracas in 1954, Bogdanov, highest scorer in the 1952 Olympics, broke the world record in the 300-meter free rifle match by nine points. Every man on the Russian 300-meter team at Caracas shot higher scores than had ever been shot in American competition. Shooting for the U.S. in this event will be Lieutenant Herbert Voelcker, USA, a newcomer to international competition but twice All-America Collegiate Rifle champion. His teammate, Lieutenant James Smith, USMCR, is a veteran of the Caracas matches. Though both have performed well in training, Russia, Finland and Sweden should present them with almost insurmountable odds.
Greatest challenge to Russia in the three-position smallbore rifle could be the present world-record holder and 1952 Olympic gold medalist, Erling Kongshaug of Norway. Hvild-Jensen of Denmark will be Russia's biggest threat should Norway fail to compete at Melbourne. The U.S.'s hope in this division, Arthur Jackson of Silver Spring, Md., is an old pro at international shooting, but he will face the best smallbore shooters in the world. Jackson's teammate is Lieutenant Verle Wright, USA, who shot on the '52 and '54 International teams and on the '55 Pan-American team.
Perhaps our best—and only—hope of a gold medal rests with Army Master Sergeant Huelet Benner of the U.S. slow-fire free pistol team. Considered the best pistol shot in the world, Sergeant Benner brought back the only U.S. gold medal from Helsinki. His most persistent rival is Sweden's Thor Ullman, who still holds the 50-meter free pistol Olympic record he set in 1936. With Ullman's presence at Melbourne in doubt, Benner's chances of repeating his Helsinki victory will be threatened by Russia's Yassinsky and Vajnschtejn. Benner's slow-fire pistol partner, Navy Warrant Officer Offutt Pinion, is a longtime competitive pistol shooter with a record of consistently high scoring but little brilliance.
The remaining shooting event in which the U.S. will compete, the rapid-fire pistol matches, may see some upsets. Russia and Finland are strongest contenders, with little hope for the U.S. Rapid-fire team member John Forman of El Paso, Texas, however, is an up-and-coming shooter, with international experience at Caracas and a promising pre-Olympic training record. Potentially, he could provide the surprise in this event. His partner, Air National Guardsman John Beaumont of Hawaii, with no previous international experience behind him, is less predictable.
After several months of intensive pre-Olympic training, however, the eight Americans who will shoot at Melbourne represent the strongest Olympic team the U.S. has sent into competition in years.