Emily Stith’s decision to move to Colorado Springs has paid off in a big way for the Rampart High School senior.
The 18-year-old recorded her biggest win to date when she defeated the reigning NCAA champion and the Olympic gold medalist to garner gold in women’s air rifle at the Junior Olympics last week to earn a berth in the junior world championships in Suhl, Germany, this June.
Focusing on competitive shooting means she’s going to miss graduation, but then she moved to the region as a sophomore two summers ago to become an Olympic-caliber shooter.
“My parents were fully on board with it,” Stith said. “If moving to Colorado Springs (from North Kitsap, Wash.) put me on the path to the Olympics, then that’s what I was going to do. We packed everything up in a week, drove to competitions all summer long and ended up in Colorado Springs right before school started.”
She took a big step in her possible journey to the 2020 Summer Games by finishing atop a field that included NCAA titlist Morgan Phillips and several other top college shooters while edging Olympic champ Ginny Thrasher by three-tenths of a point (836.9 to 836.6) last Tuesday at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center.
That’s a breakthrough for Stith, who made her international debut last summer in the Bangkok World Cup event and later earned her first international medal – a bronze in Innsbruck, Austria.
Winning at the Junior Olympics opens up more possibilities as the four-year qualification cycle speeds up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The gold also automatically qualified her for the Munich World Cup in mid-May (during graduation) and gave her an opportunity to compete two weeks later in the Czech Republic.
“The amount of things I set out to do have been really big for me,” Stith said. “It increases my chances of qualifying for more international matches and getting chances at winning medals. Everything adds to the possibility of making it to Tokyo.”
That started with a trip to the OTC in 2015 for those Junior Olympics, when she saw the facility and the possibilities of dedicating herself after only two years in the sport.
“When I first started (in 2013) it was cool and I took it pretty seriously,” Stith said. “But then I found out you can go to Olympics in this sport, so I decided that what’s I am going to do. My dad was in the military (Navy) so I was used to moving around every three years. Having to make new friends didn’t bother me.”
Entering the more dedicated environment at the OTC, where every junior club athlete is working toward Olympic berths, helped Stith develop rapidly.
“The big difference is the mindset,” Stith said. “In Washington, most people competing just wanted to go to college on a scholarship. When I moved here, everyone wants to go to college but they want to do so much more.”
The OTC rookie improved quickly. When she arrived at the OTC two years ago, Stith was 48th out of 190 people in air rifle. Her score has improved from 406-plus points to 418-420 – a big difference at the competitive level.
“I wasn’t necessarily at the bottom of the pack, but I was constantly having to battle to make it to the top,” she said. “The amount of drive required to compete against so many like-minded people was really beneficial.”
She posted two personal records in her first two weeks at the club in part because of the additional tutelage, especially on the mental side of the sport.
Now, with her latest step toward Tokyo made, Stith is ready for the next one.
“I feel the road is pretty solid so far,” she said. “There will be challenges and you have to take them on. So far, it is going pretty well.”