Starting In The Back Of A Gym, Pistol Shooter Katelyn Abeln Is Now Headed To The Olympics
by Bob Reinert
A nasty cold hit Katelyn Abeln at the worst possible time. With one day left at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Shooting third session on Jan. 7, 2024 in Anniston, Alabama, for Air Gun in early January, the symptoms got so bad she couldn’t help but feel that her dream of reaching the Olympic Games Paris 2024 might be finished.
“I was super sick that (last) day, so I really was just trying to survive and just get through the day, honestly, and get on a flight back to Ohio,” Abeln recalled. “I was really just focused on getting through the match. I wasn’t really thinking about making the Olympic team. I had to make the best of the situation.”
Turns out Abeln’s best that day was good enough. Her performance in Anniston, Alabama, earned her a spot on Team USA in women’s air pistol. The 22-year-old from Douglasville, Georgia, became one of the first U.S. shooters to qualify for Paris, where she’ll make her Olympic debut.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” Abeln said. “I kept telling my coaches, ‘No, no way. There’s no way that I made the team.’ It was really surreal.”
Eventually, it all became real for Abeln, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public health and epidemiology at Ohio State University, where she’s helped the Buckeyes win three straight collegiate national championships in pistol shooting.
“I just felt so much gratefulness,” she said. “It’s exciting. It’s crazy to think that after all this hard work, and everyone who’s supported me, and all those long training hours, I finally get to go to Paris.”
However, as Abeln pointed out, her focus is more on sport pistol than air pistol, so making the team was something of a surprise.
“That’s just what I prefer,” she said. “So, to me, making air pistol just didn’t seem reasonable, I guess. It just didn’t seem like it was for me.”
Yet, it all started with the air pistol when she was 12 years old. Abeln shot in the back of a CrossFit gym and in her basement at home. Her father formed an air pistol team for her and a couple of other children.
“I tried it one night and absolutely fell in love with it,” Abeln said. “It’s so intricate, and you need to have such specific skills to do well in the sport. When I was just starting, I had no idea. There’s something about it that was super challenging, yet very satisfying.”
Abeln continued with the challenging sport right through her undergraduate years and into graduate school at Ohio State.
“It’s been difficult, for sure, juggling Olympic trials and grad school,” she said. “It all comes down to time management and just trying my best at everything I do and hoping that it’ll be enough. And right now, it is.
“I usually train about three to four hours a day throughout the week depending on class schedule and training. If I have any exams, I might take a step back from training.”
Abeln is also in the midst of the Buckeyes’ collegiate shooting schedule, which has her traveling to competitions almost every weekend through the end of March. After that, she will probably adjust her training with an eye towards Paris.
Abeln has been shooting competitively for a decade and found international success at the junior level. As she looks back at her career, she points to the 2022 Confederation of the Americas event as a highlight, as she both won her first international gold medal in the 25-meter sport pistol event and earned an Olympic quota for Team USA.
As she prepares for the Olympic Games Paris 2024, Abeln is trying to stay on an even keel.
“Trying not to have any expectations,” she said. “My goal, I guess, is to just give it all I’ve got and train hard and do the best I can for those couple days that I compete there.”
Abeln isn’t quite sure what the future holds after the Games and when she completes her degree work next year at Ohio State, but expect her to stick around pistol shooting in some fashion.
“I don’t see myself quitting the sport entirely,” Abeln said. “The people I’ve met through this sport are like family, and I just don’t see myself completely leaving the sport. I don’t think it would be possible for me as a person.”