When a group of men from the Boston Athletic Club heard about a new sporting competition being held in Athens during the Spring of 1896, they decided they ought to make the trip to compete. This group of athletes would turn out to be the core of America’s very first, 14-man Olympic team. Army Lieutenant John Paine was among the core group of men who traveled to Athens. However, before reaching Greece, he stopped in Paris to convince his brother, Sumner, also a sport shooter, to compete in the Olympic games with him.

Both men set off for Athens armed with numerous pistols and 3,500 rounds of ammunition. They would only need 96 rounds and two Colt 45s to etch their names in the international sport shooting and Olympic history books.

John Paine did so well in his first event, the Military 25M pistol competition, that he withdrew from other shooting events in order to give the rest of the competitors a sporting chance at winning a medal. Although Greek shooters took nine out of 15 medals in shooting events, the Paine brothers each won a gold medal, with Sumner also earning a silver medal in the Military 25M Pistol – only out shot by his brother. These two Bostonians began what would become a strong dominance of American athletes in international sport shooting events.

Modernizing International Sport Shooting

Sport shooting expanded from five events in the first Olympics (three pistol and two rifle events) to 10 shooting events in the second modern Olympics. Since the sport was clearly on the rise, several shooting organizations decided there needed to be an international governing body, which could standardize and oversee the sport internationally. Enter the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF). It has been the official governing body of shooting sports since 1907.

The organization has brought shooting sports a long way since its inception over 100 years ago. Now, it oversees numerous shooting sports, to include competitive air pistol and air rifle shooting. Other events include skeet shooting (real pigeons were used in this competition in the second Olympic games and there was also a “running deer” event), rapid fire rifle, shotgun and trap shooting.

Shooting Sports at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games

Sport shooting has evolved greatly, thanks in large part to the ISSF, since the 1896 Olympic games. There will be 45 medals at stake (15 events total) in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. In Rio, 20 American shooters will be trying to follow in the footsteps of America’s top shooting Olympian, Carl Osburn, who won a total of 11 Olympic medals, including five gold medals, in shooting sports in the early 20th century.

Although the U.S. has traditionally dominated Olympic sport shooting, several other countries are vying to be the world’s best shooters. Still, those countries have a long way to go to if they hope to surpass the U.S. medal count: America has won 107 medals in sport shooting, with 53 of those being gold. In comparison, the closet country to the U.S. medal count is Sweden. They have won a total of 56 Olympic medals in shooting. However, China has really taken to shooting sports, and are currently the shooting team to watch.

While shooting sports may not get as much attention as the gymnastics or swimming events, it’s a sport full of skill that deserves to be noticed, especially if you are rooting for the U.S.A.