Storybook Beginning for West Virginia"s Ginny Thrasher

The last few months of Ginny Thrasher's life have been of the fairy tale variety. An unprecedented sweep of the NCAA rifle titles as a freshman, followed by a gold medal at the Olympic Games, would have been laughed at if it were the subject of a novel or a movie. The fact that it really happened is tough to wrap one's head around.

Thrasher's story isn't one of the normal Olympic athlete who has spent the majority of her life honing her craft. As is well-known, she only began shooting five years ago, but rapidly advanced to become one of the best junior shooters in the country. That progression was amazing enough, but it didn't presage her awesome accomplishments in her first season at WVU. She immediately became a team leader and quickly progressed until she was the most consistent shooter on the squad in both air rifle and smallbore, leading the Mountaineers to their 18th national title while nabbing both individual titles.

That was just the front end of the double dip, though. Not satisfied with just making the U.S. Olympic squad, she captured the gold in 10 meter air rifle, besting two former Mountaineers, Maren Prediger and Ziva Dvorsak, along the way. Thrasher didn't catch any breaks on her way to gold, either. The field she bested was a strong one, including, two-time gold medalist Li Du and defending gold medalist Yi Siling. That's the winners of the last three Olympic games in the event, and they all fell before Thrasher's incredible accuracy. In the seven two-shot series of the finals, when the low-score participant gets eliminated after each stage, Her lowest score was a 10.0 (that's a bulls-eye, by the way), and seven of her 14 shots were 10.5 or better.

It has not sunk in yet," Thrasher said from Rio de Janiero, in a voice that couldn't contain the smile that was on her face. "Holding that medal in my hands is something I have to do every few minutes.I think that the exterior of your life changes but who I am doesn't change no matter what or how many medals I win. I am excited that I get to enjoy of all this and its a great opportunity"

In a very short time, Thrasher has become a media veteran. Her answers are thoughtful and not canned, and aren't full of cliches, although there are repeated notes of her appreciation for all the support she has received. That doesn't though, keep her from disagreeing with the thought behind some questions. When one interviewer compared her win with a donkey winning the Kentucky Derby, and another termed her as the 45th best shooter in the U.S. just a short time ago, she had excellent counters.

"I'd disagree with that," she said politely when the Derby discourse began. "People see the three of your performance that's in the spotlight but not the 97% that's in the dark. I felt like I could compete. And just because I came in 45th in one match doesn't mean I was the 45th best shooter."

Still, her confidence aside, did anyone see this coming? If so, they kept it to themselves. Upon her signing with WVU a little more than year ago, head coach Jon Hammond was certainly happy, but he didn't give a hint if he thought any of this was possible.

“Ginny has been shooting some excellent smallbore recently and has a very strong work ethic,” said Hammond in April, 2015. “We have known Ginny for a few years through our camps, and she will be eager to work hard and improve quickly. I’m sure she will thrive in the team’s environment."

"Thrive" might be the understatement of the millenium. She's gone from invisible outside of shooting circles to a national figure, trending on Twitter as she locked down the gold medal and becoming a media appearance staple across the U.S.

"It's been a crazy 24 hours. It's been insane," she recounted. "I went from waking up at 5:00 a.m.yesterday morning and doing all my prematch routine, then getting on bus and going to the range and shooting a difficult qualifying round to standing on the podium while the national anthem played. I was just filled with pride."

While it all sounds easy, of course it wasn't. She was in the Olympics for the first time, facing the top shooters in the world. She said her hold on the rifle in the qualifying rounds was not its best, and that it was "taking a lot of energy and I had to fight it all day". Still, she moved into the finals and then put up a performance that set a new Olympic record. When it got down to the final two for the gold, she admitted some other thoughts crept in, but managed to hold those at bay.

"I definitely knew that I needed to keep shooting the best shot I could," she said of the last one of the event, when her 10.4 bullseye clinched the gold. "There were distracting thoughts about medals coming into my head. But going into that last shot, I was just trying to shoot a ten because I knew that was what I needed."

While Thrasher is America's young lady of the moment, she also has special feelings for WVU and the Mountain State, which she folds into those statements of her national pride.

"It instills a great sense of pride to have been born and raised here," Thraser said of her thoughts of representing the U.S. "I am a diehard Mountaineer fan, and watching our flag get raised and knowing your state and all of the states are behind me is very gratifying. Being at WVU I have blossomed.  I love it so much." 

Thrasher will also compete in the 50 meter three position rifle event on Thursday, Aug. 11. Qualifications begin at 8:00 a.m. ET, with the finals at 11:00 a.m.

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