When two Olympic-bound shooters slug it out, fireworks can be the only outcome. That was the case as Austria’s Martin Strempfl, who shoots with a Steyr air rifle, beat Lucas Kozeniesky of USA 2-1 to enter the final of “TOPGUN” on Wednesday, but not before the online audience was treated to some top-notch action. Martin, the Olympic quota winner, awaits the shooter who will prevail in the second semifinal between reigning Olympic champion Ginny Thrasher of USA and Serbia’s Milenko Sebic on Thursday.
At the start of the match, the odds were in favour of Lucas after the close win against Martin’s teammate Berhard Pickl. But it seemed the high-voltage match had taken a toll on the World No 3 as he failed to maintain the fluency he had displayed at the start.
It wasn’t as if Martin was below par in the first match, Lucas simply raised the bar to a level his opponent could not match. Even though Lucas wrapped it up easily at 10-3, there was ample proof of the pedigree of the two shooters. On three occasions, the two men matched each other with similar scores.
It was as if roles got reversed in the second match as Martin stepped up admirably with two 10.8s and a perfect 10.9. It was the experience of competing in online competitions since last year that came handy for the tall Austrian. The ‘Race to 10’ is demanding and Martin has come to realise the past few months that staying patient and sticking it out is the only way to bounce back in this extremely fast format. His father and coach, August, watching the proceedings and urging him to hang in there was another key factor in the revival.
The second match had a had a similar 10-3 scoreline but was in Martin’s favour and it was down to the decider. Martin was on a roll by now, and Lucas struggling with his stance and elbow positioning. Whatever the issue, it could not be fixed by Lucas.
With Lucas’ scores dipping and Martin shooting perfect scores twice among other high 10s, the decider was his at 10-5. For the Austrian camp, it was a revenge of sorts for the narrow loss in the last quarterfinal. In fact, Bernhard, who was present at the range from where Martin competed, was among the first to congratulate his teammate. “I’m proud of him, it was a good job.”
Happy to make the final, an elated Martin termed the match “a great fight” and attributed his win to “keeping at it despite the poor start”. As for Lucas, it was about paying the price for failing to rise to the occasion. “I made a few mistakes and lost some points and Martin capitalized on them. It was about pressure also and about how you cope with it and where you end up.”