Hot-shooting Purser grabs gold medal in Shotgun event
By Steve Wright
Great Outdoor Games staff
Right after those words came out of his mouth, Sides missed one of the rabbit targets in his second round match with Long.
That proved to be the only target Sides dropped in eliminating last year's champ, 19-18.
However, in the end, Purser's prophetic words won out. Purser, a UPS employee from Macon, Ga., and Sides, a power company lineman from Montgomery, Ala., were easily the two hottest shooters in the 16-person field assembled for the 2002 Great Outdoor Games.
When they met in the finals Friday night, Sides and Purser had each missed only two of 80 targets.
In this new clay target-shooting format, a round consists of 20 targets for each shooter.
Within that round, they alternate shooting at five targets each. The targets are released 3.5 seconds apart. A competitor may have no more than two shells in the shotgun. The targets are released from three machines spaced evenly in an 85-foot line.
In each competitor's five targets, two will be "rabbits" targets rolling and bouncing along the ground and three will be "teal," or targets thrown relatively straight up in the air.
In the gold-medal round, Sides and Purser broke their first 10 targets each.
Then Sides missed a target in his next group of five. Of course, it was a rabbit.
"That's my problem target," said Sides, who has the U.S. Sporting Clays champion in 1997 and is a seven-time Alabama state champ. "Those are the only three targets I missed in this competition.
"I shoot with my head so far up on the gun so I can see the teal, I don't get down far enough on the gun for the rabbits."
Purser posted perfect scores of 20 points in three of his four rounds of the competition. It took one of those perfect rounds to edge Sides, 20-19, for the gold medal.
"Tre is one of the best shots in the country, bar none," said Purser. "He's very smooth out there. He does seem to have a phobia about rabbits. And I knew if he shot all the rabbits he would be really tough to beat."
The only two targets Purser missed were in his 18-12 semifinal victory over Jeff Vick of Northport, Ala. And they occurred when the bolt handle broke on his automatic shotgun. "I saw it fly out, then I missed a left-hand teal," said Purser. "You just can't let that happen. You've got to keep your concentration."
Purser had two more concentration tests in the round, patiently waiting through two "no bird" malfunctions in the target machines.
"That's just part of the game," said Purser. "You get those distractions in every competition. How well you handle them is the key. You just can't let them bother you."
And other than in the semifinal win over Vick, Purser's concentration didn't miss another beat. He also ignored another no bird malfunction in the win over Sides for the gold. "I was really focused," Purser said. "I was doing my visualization. I felt like I was in a good rhythm."
Sides took home the silver medal. Jeff Vick defeated David McHugh of Lakeville, Conn., 17-15 for the bronze medal. There were only six perfect scores posted in the 32 rounds of the competition. Purser and Sides combined for four of them. Scott Robertson of Flower Mound, Texas, posted another in his opening round win.
A key to Vick advancing to win a bronze was his shooting a 20 to edge Robertson by one target in their second round match. Vick's last target was a teal that was dropping fast before he was able to get a shot off.
"I'm just glad it broke," said Vick. "That 20 couldn't have come at a better time." McHugh was the fourth-place finisher. Robertson and Doug Koenig of Albertis, Penn., tied for fifth place. Long was seventh and Kim Rhode of Culver City, Calif., finished eighth.
The only thing topping Purser's performance was the format itself. The change from the "shooting grid" format of last year's GO Games was a hit with both competitors and fans.
"I like this much better," said Purser. "And it's much easier for the audience to be able to follow. It seemed like there were a lot of judgement calls on the grid."