There have been firearms in the western world since the 14th century, primarily for military purposes. Within 200 years the firearms have been modified for hunting and target shooting. Various competitions came up in target shooting: rifle shooting, pistol shooting, clay pigeon shooting and shooting with compressed air rifles.
Traces of target shooting can be found as far back as to the 16th century. It became popular very soon when the first rifled barrels were developed to increase accuracy. The origin of target shooting was in Central Europe. In Switzerland and Germany it has been practiced from the 16th century on. The German target shooting association "Deutscher Schützenbund" was founded in 1861. The "National Rifle Association" of the USA was founded in 1871.
The most ancient firearms in target shooting are compressed air rifles. The origin of these rifles can be traced back into the Middle Ages. In 1463 the St. Sebastianus Shooting Club was f ounded in Cologne. It had an underground shooting range. Starting from the 19th century air rifle and air pistol shooting became popular as sports events, especially in Great Britain. The first rules for international air rifle competitions were published in 1965 and for air pistols in 1968. The first world championships for air guns took place in 1966. The ISSF (formerly UIT) which was founded in 1907 and has its seat in Munich is responsible for international target shooting.
Target shooting was part of the Olympic program already since the first modern Olympic Games which took place in Athens in 1896. With the exception of 1904 and 1928 shooting competitions have been carried out at all Olympic Games ever since. Pierre de Coubertin was an enthusiastic target shooter and managed that this discipline was part of the Olympic Program from the very beginning.
The way the competitions have been carried out has changed very frequently, however. In 1908, 1912 1920 and 1924 dozens of shooting competitions were carried out, among them also team competitions. In 1920 there were 21 competitions and shooters could win several Olympic medals. After the gap in 1928 target shooting was again represented at the Olympic Games in 1932 but only with 2 competitions – one pistol and one rifle competition. Since the Second World War a standard program was developed more or less.
In 1968 women for the first time were allowed to take part in the Olympic shooting competitions. In this year three women took part in the competitions together with the men. In 1976 Margaret Murdock from the USA won a silver medal in the small bore 3-position competition with an ANSCHÜTZ target rifle. In 1984 the ISSF established own competition for women. Until 1992 women shot four different competitions at the Olympic Games. This program was added by a further competition at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. At this event there was also a competition of clay pigeon shooting for women for the first time.
In Athens in 1896 five competitions were carried out, three for pistols and two for rifles. These Olympics had an unusual evaluation system in which for the final result the number of the reached points was multiplied with the number of scores.
The Olympic Games in Paris in 1900 took place at the same time as the World Exhibition. There were 11 Olympic shooting competitions. In Athens in 1906 16 different shooting competitions were carried out. Guldbrand Skatteboe won three gold medals as an individual shooter. This was the only time a shooter reached this at Olympic Games.
Except the clay pigeon competition the Olympic shooting competitions of 1908 took place on the famous shooting range of Bisley near London. There were 15 competitions, 11 of which in rifle shooting and four team competitions. Most medals were won by British and American shooters.
At the Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912 there were 18 shooting competitions.
At the Olympic Games in Antwerpen in 1920 18 nations were represented in the shooting disciplines which was the largest number ever. They shot 21 competitions which again was the largest number of Olympic disciplines ever apart from the athletics. The Americans were dominant with 23 medals, among them 13 gold medals.
The Olympic shooting program in Paris in 1924 was reduced to 10 competitions. The highlight surely was the performance of the team of Haiti. Haiti never had taken part in international shooting competitions before but sent a team which was trained by the U.S. Marine Corps. After the first day the shooters from Haiti ranked second after the USA in military team shooting. On the third day they were not that much successful but they managed to rank third and won their first Olympic medal, one of only two medals until 1996.
The IOC tried to reduce the general program for the Olympics in 1928. Thus the shooting competitions were cancelled. In 1932 target shooting was again included but only had one competitions each in target and pistol shooting. Also in Berlin in 1936 there were only three competitions, one for rifle shooters and two for pistol shooters.
After the Second World War the Olympic shooting program was standardized considerably after all the years in which the number of competitions was fixed according to the whims of the referring organization committee.
Since 1924 no more team competitions have been carried out in target shooting. However, they are part of the world championships.
The current Olympic shooting program includes the following competitions:
- Small bore 3-position (prone, standing, kneeling)
- Prone shooting
- Air rifle
- Free pistol
- Rapid fire pistol
- Air pistol
- Air rifle running target
- Clay pigeon shooting (trap, double trap, skeet)
The participation of Soviet shooters revolutionized the Olympic target shooting competitions. They dominated in these competitions from 1956 to 1988. Due to the reduction of the Olympic program and the specialization of the shooters, most participants only shoot one competition and therefore do not win a larger number of medals.
As mentioned before the Olympic shooting program was subjected to several modifications in the course of the years. In 1984, for example, air rifle shooting for men and in 1988 air pistol shooting was introduced.
Since 1984 there are separate competitions for women after they had competed with the men since the Olympics in 1968. In 1984 the Olympic competitions for women consisted of air rifle shooting, small bore 3-position and sport pistol shooting. In 1988 the program was added by a competition for sport pistol shooting.
The Olympic shooting competitions themselves were modified as well in the course of the years. The targets became smaller and smaller due to the progress in gun technology and the improved capabilities of the shooters. The regulations on admitted rifles and pistols were modified as well.
In order to make the competitions more interesting for spectators the ISSF changed the procedure of the program. Up to than shooters shot their own program and the results were compared with each other. Winner was the shooter with the best score or most hit pigeons. Since 1992 the eight best shooters have to shoot a common final in which the results are calculated to an exactness of 1/10 of a score. The results of this final are added to the results of the qualification to determine the final ranking.
FACTS AND FIGURES
In 1976 Margaret Murdock from the USA was the first women who won a medal in an Olympic shooting event when she ranked second in the small bore 3-position competitions against her male competitors. She lay level with her team mate Lanny Bassham but after a careful inspection of the target Bassham was declared winner according to a tie break rule. On the podium Bassham pulled her up to the top step to share the honor with her.
The longest continuous competition at the Olympics is the prone competition in small bore rifle shooting. Rim fire cartridges in the caliber .22 (5.6 mm) are shot at a distance of 50 m. The program is limited to 60 shots. A maximum score of 600 can be reached (without final results).
The USA have won more Olympic medals than any other nation. Until 1992 U.S. shooters won totally 89 medals, 44 of them were gold medals.
With 72 years and 279 days the Swede Oscar Swahn was the oldest winner of an Olympic medal in target shooting. He won the silver medal in the team competition on running deer targets in 1920. Swahn won totally 6 medals at the Olympic Games in 1908, 1912 and 1920. His son Alfred Swahn increased this collections by further 9 medals from 1912 to 1924.