Pick up a pencil and a sheet of typing paper. Print the word “‘rifle” in lowercase letters. You needn’t worry about dotting the ‘I’. Hannah Black will do that for you.
With a single .22-caliber round.
From a distance of 50 meters.
Black, a 20-year-old Richmond resident, earlier this month earned a berth on the U.S. national rifle team and moved closer to the 2016 Summer Olympics by winning the 50-meter three-position smallbore competition at an elite match hosted by USA Shooting.
She did so with a display of pressure marksmanship that even Annie Oakley would have admired. Black, a Texas Christian University junior, scored 591 of a possible 600 points on the second day — the finals — of the two-day meet. She set a U.S. record and missed the world record by one point.
“It was almost like an out-of-body experience,” Black said. “It was one of those days where everything just seems to come together. It was like being on autopilot, almost.”
Black said her second-day performance at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs “just seemed to fly by.”
Competitors were allowed an hour, 45 minutes to fire 20 shots from each of three positions: standing, kneeling and prone.
Said Black: “Sometimes, believe me, it feels like an hour and 45 minutes. But not this time. This time, I was so locked in. I was very focused. I knew what I needed to do. I was just — well, I guess I was in a zone. Time seemed to pass so quickly. I have no idea where it went.”
Championship-caliber marksmanship at the international and NCAA levels is a marriage of superbly disciplined individuals and exquisitely precise weapons. To score very well — as she did in Colorado Springs — Black must consistently hit the center of her target: a dot the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
That Black can do so comes as no surprise to her father. Scott Black said his daughter’s cerebral weaponry is formidable.
“In most sports, you try to fire yourself up if things aren’t going well,” Scott said. “In competitive shooting, it’s just the opposite. If things aren’t going well, you have to be able to calm yourself down. Hannah can do that.”
Scott said the ability to tolerate solitude and repetition is no less essential.
“You’re practicing the same things over and over and over again, day after day,” he said. “There’s no other way to say it: It can be grueling.”
Hannah seems not to mind. When at home, which isn’t often, she practices on a small range in the family garage. When at school, she said she spends “three hours a day, six days a week” at the TCU target range.
“That’s the nice thing about shooting,” she said. “You alone are responsible. You alone are accountable. What you accomplish is a reflection of how hard you’re willing to work and how much time you’re willing to put in. In a lot of respects, you’re always competing against yourself. Your goal for tomorrow is to be a little bit better than you were today.”
Black was 13 when she first fired a .22 while visiting a target range in Yorktown. She was immediately intrigued. Soon she was captivated.
“I think I liked it because I could beat boys,” she said. “That really appealed to me. I thought that was kind of cool.
“And I liked it because it was so different. It wasn’t like dancing or figure skating or all of those girly things I was doing.”
But some of those girly things helped. Black, who was home-schooled, pursued dance throughout her high school years. She performed on stage as a member of Busch Gardens’ Sesame Street troupe.
Dance, she said, enhanced her physical arsenal by improving not only her balance but also her flexibility and core strength — key assets in a sport in which a nerve twitch or muscle tremor can spoil a shot.
Black, who led TCU in aggregate scoring (smallbore and air rifle) at the 2014 NCAA championships, said new or casual acquaintances often are startled to learn she is a standout performer in this most esoteric of NCAA sports.
“They’ll say, ‘You do what?’” she said. “Sometimes they don’t know what to say. I get a lot of questions: ‘Oh — so you’re a hunter?’ Or, ‘Are you in the military?’ Sometimes I tell people I’m on the rifle team and they say, ‘Oh — you mean like spinning and twirling’” with white wooden rifles in a halftime show? “And I’ll say, ’Well, no, not exactly…’”
Black’s victory in Colorado Springs placed her on a path that could ultimately lead to Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2016. She will travel with the national team to the April 8-16 International Shooting Sports Federation World Cup event in Changwon, South Korea.
The Changwon competition and subsequent World Cup events in Fort Benning, Ga., and Munich, Germany, — both in May — are significant because of the availability of Olympic quota slots. The extent of the U.S. team’s presence in Rio de Janeiro will be determined by quota slots captured in world-class pre-Olympic competition.
“The Olympics is the ultimate goal,” Black said. “(Changwon), I hope, will be a step in that direction.”