Harbison takes his best shot, but misses Fallston shooter falls 3rd to 7th on last shot

Atlanta Olympics

July 23, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The pressure of the shooting competition at the 1996 Olympic Games was enough to send a Chinese pistol shooter to the hospital Saturday. With a comfortable lead going into his last shot, Wang Yifu badly misfired, blew the gold medal by a tenth of a point and promptly fainted. They carried Wang out on a stretcher. His coach said he will return for his next event today.

Rob Harbison, of Fallston, felt similar pressure in yesterday's 10-meter air rifle competition at Wolf Creek Shooting Range. After finishing second in the morning's preliminary round with his best score ever, the 30-year-old Army captain was on the verge of a bronze medal with one of 10 shots remaining. Harbison seemingly had recovered from a shaky start in the finals with a near-perfect score on his next-to-last attempt.

A 10.7 out of a possible 10.9 had put Harbison into third place, .6 points ahead of his closest competitor.

"I really didn't know where I stood," he would say later. "All I knew was that I had gotten back into it by the reaction of the crowd."

As soon as he pulled the trigger on his final attempt, Harbison knew something else.

"I knew it was a bad shot," he said.

Bad enough to drop Harbison from third to seventh. But not bad enough to ruin his first Olympic competition. How bad could it be, considering that the air rifle is not Harbison's best event? How bad could it be, considering that Harbison will get another chance Saturday in three-position shooting, an event in which he's expected to medal?

How bad could it be, considering that Harbison had tied his personal high-point total in air rifle?

"I'm disappointed, but I was seventh in the world today in the air rifle," said Harbison, a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga. "I have a jewel of a piece of experience. I have shot in an Olympic final. I was really pleased with my performance."

Harbison, whose first bid to make the Olympics ended when his unit in Fort Hood, Texas, was called to serve in the Persian Gulf War in 1990, said that the tension of the competition got the best of him. He wasn't the only one. Wolfram Waibel Jr. of Austria, who broke the Olympic record with a near perfect score of 596 in the preliminaries, wound up with a silver after a couple of sloppy shots.

The difference between Harbison's medaling or not medaling yesterday was microscopic. Shooting at a target the size of a quarter, Harbison's poor shot was 5 millimeters from being decent enough for a bronze.

But there are no soft rims in this game to gently guide in a last-second free throw. And, without the scoreboard behind him, Harbison had no idea what he needed.

"The name of the game is controlling your nerves," said Harbison. "The guys who can put aside the adrenalin are usually the guys who win. I got a little nervous." Asked to describe the pressure, Harbison offered an analogy.

"It's like trying to walk across a 10-foot plank," he said. "You put it on the ground, and it doesn't look so hard. Then put it between two buildings and try to walk across."

One shot away from an Olympic medal, Harbison fell.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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