With four days still to go before his single day of Olympic competition, N.C. State rising senior Lucas Kozeniesky is soaking in the entire experience. Monday, he'll compete in the 10-meter air rifle. Thursday, he was as much a tourist as an Olympian.
“I'm enjoying myself,” Kozeniesky said. “It's a lot of fun. The shooting venue is great, the best facility I've ever seen. The facilities at the village are really nice. I have a great view from where I'm staying at the Olympic village. I don't have any complaints. It's been a lot of fun meeting everyone.”
Because Kozeniesky is only 21, and because competitive target-shooters can have careers that can span generations – 37-year-old skeet shooter Kim Rohde is here looking for her sixth straight medal, having won her first in Atlanta – he's almost like a rookie at an All-Star Game: precocious, but with the best presumably still lying ahead.
There aren't many Olympians who can think of this as their “first” Olympics, a presumptuous assumption to make, but in the shooting world Kozeniesky can reasonably expect to make another Olympics at some point in his life, especially as he progresses beyond air rifle to the other two rifle disciplines.
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“The timing of this Olympics, I kind of peaked to make the team,” Kozeniesky said. “There's still a lot I can learn and information I can gather before I push my way up to the next level. This is a good experience and I can learn what I can from this time and spend the next four years training hard in air rifle and get ready for 2020.”
Matt Emmons, now a three-time medalist who moved to the Czech Republic to further his shooting career, started out that way in 2004. He shot all three rifle disciplines in his first Olympics. Air rifle was the first on the schedule.
“I was really, really nervous,” Emmons said. “I didn't know what to expect, but I was really happy with how I dealt with it and I was able to carry that momentum forward into my next events. Even though I only finished ninth, I felt pretty darn good about it. For Lucas, he's got a great head on his shoulders. I'm really impressed with how he shot at the tryout. To do that three days in a row is fantastic.”
Emmons and Kozeniesky were both on the U.S. team at the World Championships in Thailand in April, where Kozeniesky peppered him with questions about how to advance in the world of elite target shooting. Emmons' advice this week: Think ahead.
“Really the thing is, and he and I have talked, right now maximize the experience, do the best you can with what you have,” Emmons said. “But really, he's so young, it's like looking forward to the next games, built on it and carry it forward. … (In rifle) he's not quite as good at it yet, not at the world level, and he's fully aware of that. That's fine. He's getting experience and he can continue building on it. He has four more years to get better. He can get there next time.”
Kozeniesky would make history if he can medal Monday; no American male has ever medaled in air rifle. Before that, he'll march in the Opening Ceremonies on Friday with the rest of the U.S. team. His family, coach and girlfriend are scheduled to arrive Saturday. For now, he's just enjoying the ride.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock