MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Mary Tucker is no stranger to national and international rifle competition. Somewhere in her trophy case, among a plethora of awards and accolades, sits a silver medal from the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.
Also among her accomplishments are numerous successful appearances at Junior World Championships, Junior Pan-American games, Open World Cups, and most recently, a gold medal with Team USA at the 2023 ISSF World Championships in Azerbaijan.
Tucker is also highly decorated in the collegiate ranks, with multiple CRCA and GARC Shooter of the Year Awards and a national championship.
So, she was as surprised as anyone when she was filled with nerves entering the first leg of the 2024 Olympic Trials at Fort Moore, Georgia, during the final days of September and the first few days of this month.
It wasn’t just nerves Tucker was battling, though. On top of that unfamiliar feeling and solid competition from some of the best rifle shooters the U.S. has to offer, she navigated her way through constant equipment malfunctions.
“I’ve had a lot of equipment problems in the last three months, and everything kind of just ended up breaking at Trials. So, of course, convenient timing,” she joked. “I actually didn’t have a single day of functional practice, until the practice day – the first day of Trials.”
As an incumbent Olympic team member, Tucker could arrive at Fort Moore earlier than other competitors, including WVU teammates like Molly McGhin. The early arrival that normally would’ve given her ample practice time seemingly gave her rifles and equipment extra time to turn against her.
“That definitely didn’t help my nerves. I didn’t know how my stuff was going to react,” Tucker added.
Tucker traveled to Georgia to compete in both air rifle and smallbore, the same two disciplines she competes in at the collegiate level with West Virginia.
Unfortunately for her, it wasn’t just one gun that was giving her fits. It was both of them.
“I felt super prepared for air gun, and I came in, and I started really well. And then my gun had a major malfunction,” she said. “I had to adjust it every couple of shots, which was really annoying.”
“Smallbore, I switched guns during practice, so it was a brand new gun. I had never competed [with] it before,” added Tucker. “So, I was a little interested to see how that was going to go.”
Age turned out to be the underlying factor with Tucker’s smallbore rifle. Her replacement works well but isn’t properly broken in yet.
Her air gun had a malfunctioning absorber, which controls how much air shoots the pellet out and can greatly affect the flight path between the barrel of the gun and the target. After believing she had fixed that problem, the absorber failed again on Saturday, Sept. 30, during the competition.
“That’s gun’s retired now. I’m not shooting it again,” Tucker can now add with a laugh.
It’s worth noting this isn’t the first time Tucker has had major equipment defects. She nearly had to use another competitor’s gun during competition in Tokyo, luckily, though, her personal rifle was fixed in the nick of time.
“I have very bad luck,” she said.
The bad luck ended there in both cases.
Two years ago in Tokyo, she earned a spot on the podium in her Olympics debut. This month at Fort Moore, the first step in her journey to securing another spot on the United States Olympic team, she recovered to earn first place in both air rifle and smallbore.
Tucker even said her performance in smallbore was one of the best she’s ever had. She placed first in that event with nearly a four-point cushion over former Army riflewoman, and fellow Team USA competitor, Sagen Maddalena. Tucker also bested Maddelena in air rifle.
A fifth-year senior in the collegiate ranks, Tucker is in the midst of her final season with West Virginia. However, she feels she is just hitting her stride in international competition.
With her pair of first-place finishes in Georgia, Tucker will head to Colorado Springs later this month (smallbore), and then again in December (air rifle), for the second leg of Olympic qualifying.
The hope is she and the other Mountaineers will perform well enough to advance to the final qualifying rounds in early 2024. Properly functioning equipment would be a good start, not that Tucker hasn’t had to overcome that before.