U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program pistol shooter Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski, center, shoots to a 23rd-place finish during the qualification round of the men's 10-meter air pistol event at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, July 28, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps
LONDON, July 26, 2012 – Army World Class Athlete Program pistol shooter Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski is taking a businesslike approach to his fourth Olympic Games.
“To go there just to be in the Olympics doesn’t really appeal to me anymore,” said Szarenski, 44, a native of Saginaw, Mich., who is stationed at Fort Carson, Colo. “I’m going for a medal. If we can’t get a medal, then what are we doing this for? I really couldn’t care about the participation at this point.”
Szarenski’s latest medal quest will begin July 28 in the men’s 10-meter air pistol event at the Royal Artillery Barracks. On Aug. 5, he’ll compete in the men’s 50-meter free pistol, his stronger event.
At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Szarenski placed 25th in free pistol. Four years later, he finished 13th in both free and air pistol in Athens, Greece -- a feat he repeated at the 2008 Beijing Games. At that point, he said, he realized something had to change.
“It just kind of felt like we’ll go to the Olympics and do the best we can, but there wasn’t really a hope,” he recalled. “I kind of lost a little bit of hope and thought maybe I was just going to be an also-ran.”
“I decided we’re not going to the Olympics for a fourth time just to be an also-ran,” he continued. “That’s why I dug deep. This might be my last one. I’m getting close to the end of my military career, so we’re going to go all-out and give them everything we’ve got. I’m hoping to keep wearing them down and get a medal out of it.”
Along the way, Szarenski changed part of his training regimen and part of his shooting game plan.
“I did a major overhaul in my training at the end of 2009, and in 2010 I won four World Cup medals,” he said. “I think the training regimen that I have right now is a lot better than it was in the past. I changed a couple of technical issues, and I think I’m headed in the right direction.”
Then he changed his mailing address, from one Army unit to another, and from one region of the country to another – complete with changes in attitude and altitude. Szarenski transitioned last August from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga., to the thin air of Colorado Springs, Colo., where he trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center as a soldier in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
“The big thing, it’s kind of funny, but there is no oxygen up here,” Szarenski said of “The Mountain Post” situated 5,835 feet above sea level. “I’m just getting used to breathing. I had to change my hold a little bit, because you’re holding the gun up there for a while. I had to add an extra breath in there to keep oxygen in me.”
Szarenski has since set a Pan American Games record in free pistol, and he comes to London on a roll after reaching several World Cup finals.
“I feel that I’m shooting the best now that I’ve ever shot,” he said. “I increased the amount of rounds downrange and just the intensity of making sure that they’re perfect shots every time. It’s a good score every day, and I have very few weak scores that used to be my average. My whole average has gone up five or 10 points. I think that should be all right, and I’m hoping for the best.”
Szarenski said he intends to make the London Games his breakthrough Olympics.
“I think my chances are really good,” he said. “I’ve been having a really good couple years, and my scores are up high. This is the best outlook I’ve had in my career. Before, it seemed like you go in and hope for the best. Now, you kind of go in and expect the best, because I’ve just been shooting a lot better these last four years.”
Szarenski said he feels better suited to find Olympic success in London than anywhere before.
“When I got to WCAP, the company commander and the first sergeant said, ‘Hey, your mission is to win the Olympics.’ And I said, ‘All right, I’m in the right place. This is great.’”
The only thing greater, Szarenski said, would be to win an Olympic medal.
“I know that I can do it,” he said. “I’ve beat the guys that are in the field that I’m playing against, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t beat them during the day of the Olympics. But I’m going to have to bring my ‘A’ game and have to do everything right in order to do it. It’s the best in the world that are competing for it, so you just can’t go in there and walk away with it. But I’ve got a really good chance.”
With retirement looming, Szarenski, a 20-year Army veteran, has made a career of competitive shooting since being recruited from Tennessee Tech University, where he studied industrial technology on a rifle grant-in-aid.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the Army for wanting to win the Olympics and wanting to showcase our athletes and the potential the United States has,” Szarenski said. “That’s what it’s all about.”