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A SURE-FIRE CONTENDER ON ANY DAY

Riflery: Jozef Gönci

More than a decade ago, a 10-year-old boy strode into the riflery club at his Košice primary school, eager to sign up. He was a pretty good shot having beaten his cousins a few times with his grandfather's air rifle. "That's nice," said the club's director, "but come back next year when I think you'll be big enough to carry a rifle." Many children would be discouraged, but instead Jozef Gönci became determined. He came back the next year and showed he belonged. Today, Gönci's dedication is paying off, as he heads to Atlanta as one of the world's best riflemen and a medal contender.


"I will compete in three disciplines. That means I'll have three chances to get on that box."

Jozef Gönci


More than a decade ago, a 10-year-old boy strode into the riflery club at his Košice primary school, eager to sign up. He was a pretty good shot having beaten his cousins a few times with his grandfather's air rifle. "That's nice," said the club's director, "but come back next year when I think you'll be big enough to carry a rifle."

Many children would be discouraged, but instead Jozef Gönci became determined. He came back the next year and showed he belonged. Today, Gönci's dedication is paying off, as he heads to Atlanta as one of the world's best riflemen and a medal contender.

He earned first, second and third place finishes at the World Championships in Milan and he has qualified for the final of eight in World Cup competitions in Munich, Havana, and Atlanta. "Jozef Gönci is among the top 15 riflemen in the world," said Miloslav Benca, secretary of the Sovak Riflery Association. "The world's highest level consists of 20 riflemen and any one of them can be the Olympic champion."

"I think I have a realistic chance at a medal and I can even win the most precious medal," Gönci said, assessing his shot at making the winner's stand. "I will compete in three disciplines. That means I'll have three chances to get on that box."

Gönci's best discipline is the 3 x 40 small caliber rifle event, where each competitor takes 40 shots from three different positions: standing, kneeling, and lying down. He will also compete in the standing air rifle and lying small caliber rifle events. His main rivals will be Russia's Jurij Setkin and Slovenia's Raymond Debevec, but really any of the top 20 shooters can win on any given day.

"That's what is beautiful about this sport and it's bad at the same time. It depends on who has his day. The biggest opponent can be my body. If I don't shoot nervously, hot-headedly, but nice and calmly and I use everything I've learned, then I'll be satisfied with anything up to 5th - no 10th place." Although he never expected it, Gönci has parlayed his success into an occupation. "In my family, there were never really any athletes," he said.

"We didn't really think that you could make a living out of competing in sports." But today he is a professional, on contract with Dukla Banská Bystrica, a sports club where he did his military service. Yet the monetary rewards in his sport are still small and starting in September, Gönci is going to study physical education, with a focus on coaching at Comenius University in Bratislava.

"I will shoot as long as I enjoy it, but I want to study because something bad could happen at anytime in this sport," he said. "I want to compete for the next 30 or 40 years. There is a Swede who is still great at 55." One thing is certain: no one is going to tell him he cannot shoot again.

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