"When a man does his best, what else is there?” – Gen. Patton
Well, when his best is an Olympic Gold medal, there’s the triumphant journey home.
(Fort Benning, GA) – When most Olympic champions ascend the podium, they have a small contingent of family and supporters to thank for helping them achieve their dreams. But when Specialist Glenn Eller and Private First Class Vincent Hancock received their gold medals in Beijing, they did so knowing that their family is a little bigger. Over a million of their uniformed brothers and sisters will share in their triumph – especially those who trained beside them at the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) based in Fort Benning, Georgia.
“I’m extremely proud to be able to represent the Army and my country,” said Hancock. “I’m dedicating my gold medal to my fellow Soldiers.”
Though considered USA’s Shooter of the Year 2006 in his discipline of Skeet, Hancock was not considered a major medal contender, being only 19 years old and having only three years of international competition under his belt. But analysts didn’t count on his determination to prove himself Army strong, or his resolve to make America proud.
After a stunning qualifying round in which he set an Olympic record, Hancock was ahead by one shot going into the final. A heartbreaking miss of a single target, and the door was open for Norway to steal the gold. Most expected him to buckle under the enormous pressure. “It just made me more determined,” said Hancock, “I knew I wouldn’t miss again.” With signature strength and composure, he rallied back to squeeze out the gold in a final shoot-out, winning by single perfect point. His final score? 145, another Olympic record.
Hancock wasn’t the only one shattering Olympic records on the range. The third time proved to be the charm for Eller, who previously failed to medal at the games in both Sydney and Athens. However, in Beijing, Eller’s outstanding qualifying round gave him both an Olympic record and a four point lead going into the finals in the men’s double trap.
The field’s youngest competitor at 26 years old, Eller looked shaken when he missed his first two targets of the final round. “It was a little dicey there for a second,” he admitted. Again, composure and training helped get the shooter back on track. “I just calmed myself down and made sure I went back through my routine—what got me into the final.”
Eller made his way into Olympic record books a second time with an impressive final score of 190. He gives credit, selflessly, to his teammates and training at the AMU. “Since I joined the Army in 2006, I've had nothing but the best training facilities and the absolute best teammates to push and support me," Eller said. "It makes such a huge difference, and I truly believe they've helped me fulfill a dream. I don't think this would've ever happened without them."
Both men have trips planned to their hometowns to share their gold medal victory with loved ones. Houston, Texas is throwing a barbecue for SPC Eller, and Eatonton, Georgia is planning on giving PFC Hancock the key to the city. Parties, parades and enthusiastic congratulations assuredly await them, but both Soldiers are undoubtedly excited to return to the AMU and the 32 eagle-eyed hot shots they’ve lived and trained with. They’ll find no shortage of praise from that camp either.
“The Army asked these young men to go and represent their military and the United States, and they certainly made us proud," said AMU commander Lieutenant Colonel Frank Muggeo.
LTC Muggeo is not just pleased with their performance, but with their composure afterwards. "They were professional,” he said. “Although when we spoke seven hours later, each of them still had the same grins on their faces that they had at the medal ceremony."
Upon their return to Fort Benning, Eller and Hancock are both slated to be inducted into the AMU Hall of Fame. They will be honored alongside the 22 other Soldiers who have medaled in shooting events since the unit was formed in 1956.
Looking forward, both marksmen are focused on the future, including training, world competitions and the London Olympics four years from now. With their gold medals in tow, one thing is for certain. Win or lose, these two lucky men have an extremely large and entirely devoted family to back them, as Americans and Olympians, but most of all, as Soldiers.