Campriani Credits WVU For Success

Riflery is, in several ways, the most individual of sports -- a contest between the shooter and his or her own mind to consistently hit an impossibly small target. But with gold and silver medals from the London Olympics lying in his backpack, Nicco Campriani credited several others connected to WVU for his success both academically and athletically.

Campriani, a native of Italy who returned to the United States earlier this week, was flanked by two of those people at a Wednesday press conference inside West Virginia's new basketball practice facility.

To his right was Jon Hammond, his coach at WVU and the man who recruited him to attend college in America.

"Jon brought me here three years ago, and it's the truth: without this experience, I would not be at this level," Campriani said. "Without Morgantown, I probably would not be here talking about medals. The whole American experience had a huge impact on my life. I'm talking academically, sports, everything."

To his left was his girlfriend and former Mountaineer teammate Petra Zublasing, who Campriani said "saved me" during the Olympics.

"One week at the Village, it's really long," Campriani said. "Yeah, the life over there is cool and everything, but every day you spend a lot of energy. It wasn't easy. I tried to stay focused, tried to stay in the moment. For this, I really have to think Petra. We shared this Olympic experience together and definitely, a lot of days, she saved me. She got me to rest, recharge the batteries."

Both Hammond (Great Britain) and Zublasing (Italy) competed in London as well, with Hammond finishing 17th in the 50-meter prone and 41st in the 50-meter three-position event. Zublasing, in her first Games, placed 12th in both the 10-meter air rifle and 50-meter three-position events.

But they were not the only WVU connections Campriani had to thank for his success. Dr. Ed Etzel, a professor in the university's sports psychology program (and a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in rifle) and Raymond Prior, a Ph.D. student in sports psychology who has worked with the Mountaineer rifle team, both helped keep Campriani mentally focused.

"The only difference between an Olympic Games and a World Cup is you have to deal with so many distractions. A lot of people talk about medals and outcomes. These are distractions and nothing else," Campriani said of the role the sports psychology department played in his development. "You have stay focused on your job, stay in the moment. You have to deal with, I don't know, 20 or 30 people who talk every day about medals. Before I go to sleep, I like to talk with someone who actually cares about the technical elements and myself, beyond medals or anything else.

"I think you should be really, really proud of what you have here. It's unbelievable. I had a lot of experience back home with sports psychologists, and it didn't work out really well. Here, you have a world-class level sports psychology department."

It didn't hurt that in Zublasing, Campriani had someone by his side in the Olympic Village who understood the pressure he faced and knew him well enough to help relieve that pressure.

"He's saying I saved him simply because when he was freaking out, I was not," Zublasing said. "It's hard to be in the Olympics as a couple, because you're trying not to be in two Olympics. You're in your own, so you try not to be in your boyfriend's too. It's a hard thing to do. But we did a great job. When he was stressed, I tried to reassure him and say what was best for him and that I will be there, no matter what happens."

Campriani tried to downplay the personal satisfaction involved with winning at the Olympics -- his scores were not much different from those of past competitions, he said, and he didn't exactly plan to hang his medals on a wall with spotlights to remind him of the accomplishment. Zublasing suggested he might keep the medals in a nondescript place, perhaps a kitchen cupboard.

But both Campriani and Zublasing plan to return to chase more Olympic glory in 2014's Rio de Janeiro Games. Campriani, who will start graduate school in a few weeks at Sheffield in England, will take a year off before training again. Zublasing has one more year left at WVU.

Both hope their successes might help the sport grow in their home country, and that they might inspire others from Italy to come to West Virginia. According to Campriani, unlike colleges in Italy, athletes can seriously pursue their sport and their education simultaneously at WVU -- an opportunity he took full advantage of, graduating with a 3.9 GPA and ultimately becoming an Olympic champion in his sport.

"I think the great thing here is you consider sport as something more. It's, ‘He graduated, and he also did sports. That's good. That's even better,'" Campriani said. "Back home, it's like, ‘Oh, you did a sport? I guess you didn't study too much.' And that's too bad. It's a great story, not just sport for itself, but sport as an opportunity. I learned a lot, got a great education and met people who changed my life.

"We'll see what happens in the future. Probably, many Italians will apply at WVU. That's for sure. A lot of people are talking about WVU right now back home."

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