Shooting Star: Kayle Browning Wins Silver Medal In Women's Trap
by Karen Rosen
Kayle Browning competes during the trap women's finals at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 29, 2021 in Saitama, Japan.
TOKYO – With earplugs blocking out most of the noise at the Asaka Shooting Range, Kayle Browning could still hear her father’s voice inside her head.
After missing three of her first four shots in the women’s trap final at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, she remembered the advice of Tommy Lynn Browning, a national sporting clay champion.
“He kept telling me, ‘Even if you miss, even if you’re behind, never give up. Keep fighting till that last shot and whatever’s meant to happen will happen, so just give it your best shot,’” she said.
“He’s told me that my whole life.”
Browning then reeled off 19 straight hits en route to the Olympic silver medal Thursday.
After taking the lead with 17 hits, Browning wound up with a total of 42, losing to Zuzana Rehak Stefecekova of Slovakia, who scored an Olympic record 43. Alessandra Perilli became the first Olympic medalist in any sport for San Marino, earn the bronze with 29 hits. San Marino, population 34,000, is the smallest country to win an Olympic medal.
Team USA has now won three Olympic medals in women’s trap, with Corey Cogdell winning the bronze in 2008 and 2016.
“This is the pinnacle of my career,” said Browning, who was an alternate for Team USA at the 2012 Olympic Games “I’ve worked for this moment my whole life, so I don’t really have words to describe it yet, but I’m definitely proud.”
The trap event began with five qualifying rounds over two days.
“I felt extremely prepared,” said Browning, who won the team and individual gold medals at the 2018 Championships of the Americans and was part of the winning team at the 2019 world championships. “Typically, I get kind of nervous before a shoot, but for this shoot, I felt really prepared and really calm and really confident.”
After three rounds Wednesday, Browning was in ninth place with a score of 71 (23-24-24). She started Thursday morning with a 24, followed by a 25 to tie for fifth, then was assigned the sixth and final position after the shoot-off.
At one point in the qualifications, she was holding down seventh place, but shooters from other countries missed to move her up the in the rankings.
“I knew that I needed to bring my best foot forward the second day and I also knew that I needed a little bit of luck to get in,” Browning said “And luckily the cards played out for me and I’m super thankful for that, but I worked hard for it.”
No lucky charm helped her through. “I just try to rely on my skills,” said Browning, who began shooting at age 8.
She edged teammate Madelynn Ann Bernau, who was seventh with 119 hits.
Meanwhile, Rehak Stefecekova was putting on a clinic on the range. She was perfect at 125 hits for a world and Olympic record for qualifications. A two-time Olympic silver medalist in 2008 and 2012, Rehak Stefecekova missed the 2016 Games after having her first child.
But once the final began later Thursday, the Slovakian was not invincible. She missed four of her first 15 shots, with the first miss coming on her fifth attempt as Seiko Hashimoto, chief of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, looked on.
“She’s always a tough competitor,” said Browning, 29, of Wooster, Arkansas. “I knew that multiple misses wasn’t likely for her. A miss is no big deal. You have to keep going. I knew that she would be tough to beat so I was just trying to focus on my game.”
In target shooting, the clays are orange and they release a puff of pink smoke when they are hit.
“Oh, that’s such a thrilling moment,” Browning said, “especially the pink cloud. Even if you just chip it, it makes you feel like you just smoked it, so it’s a good feeling.”
But when the clay shatters on the ground instead of in the air, she said, “I try to analyze the shot and figure out why I missed, if it was either nerves or something mechanical I did, and try to correct it for the next shot.”
Browning and Rehak Stefecekova each had six misses going into the final 10 shots, which were head-to-head as the other shooters were eliminated.
Browning missed her first and fifth targets, while the Slovakian missed on her her fifth. Both were perfect in the final five, but the American was one short.
She’ll be back in action in the mixed team event with Derrick Scott Mein of Team USA starting on July 31. Mein placed 24th in the men’s trap qualifications with 119 hits and Brian Burrows, who will be paired with Bernau in mixed team, was 12th with 121.
Team USA has now won three shotgun medals in Tokyo, with Amber English and Vincent Hancock winning golds in the skeet events.
While Browning called her silver medal the “pinnacle” of her career, she’s not retiring.
“No, no, just so far,” she said. “Still chasing the gold.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.
Karen Rosen has covered every Summer and Winter Olympic Games since 1992 for newspapers, magazines and websites. Based in Atlanta, she has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.