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Ranger Up Interviews: SGT Vincent Hancock – Olympic Gold Medalist
By RU Contributor Levi Newman
Sgt. Vincent C. Hancock, a shotgun shooter with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, fell in love with skeet shooting when he was 11 years old. It was this passion that led him to compete on the national level, garnering the attention of the U.S. Army. And at the age of 17, Hancock was recruited to compete with the AMU, further driving his ambition to be a champion.
Before being an Olympic star, Hancock won World Cup events, was named the USA Shooting Shotgun Shooter of the Year in 2007, won the World Championship in Men’s Skeet, and was even the Junior Men’s Skeet National champion. But that wouldn’t be enough for this young man. Hancock would go on to compete in Beijing, China, for his first Olympics, winning his very first gold medal and setting the standard for the sport. Again, Hancock felt compelled to do more.
This year’s Olympics in London would be yet another stage for which Hancock could prove his dominance over the sport, and he did just that. Shooting an Olympic record score of 148 out of a possible 150, Hancock broke his own Olympic record and took gold once more. Attributing his perseverance to his wife and to God, Hancock means to stay ready for the 2016 games in Brazil.
Sgt. Hancock is the current Olympic and National Champion in Men’s Skeet and owns every possible World Record in the sport. Below is his interview:
(Levi) What was it like for you to go to basic training, especially knowing you were going to stay a full time shotgun shooter after completion?
(Hancock) It was funny. Coming into basic training, I had just gotten out of my junior year of high school and going in there I had shaggy hair—long hair over my eyes and everything. It was a little bit of a culture shock. I knew some of what to expect; my brother was in the military, but he’s ten years older than me so I really didn’t get to talk to him about it much. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I got over it pretty well. I enjoyed my time there; it was one of the best times of my life. Everybody thinks it sucks going through it, and I was no exception, but looking back on it, it was so much fun being able to be there and go through basic training and learn all the things a soldier does. I had the chance to make friends that I’ve been able to keep up with, but others I’ve lost contact with over the past couple years. Every now and again I get an email or a text message from some of them, so that’s been a lot of fun.
I haven’t seen or touched a truck since I graduated from AIT, so I’m vastly behind the curve of a normal 88M. As a shooter we have our own classification, I think 00D is what we’re called: shooter instructor at the AMU. The things that I’ve learned through all of my individual training (basic, AIT, WLC) have helped mold me into the person I am today. There’s no way that I would’ve been the person and the family man that I am, or the dedicated person that I am, to my sport, without the military.
(Levi) As a world champion before being in the Army, how hard was it to transition into the service to do the same thing?
(Hancock) Every member of my section, the shotgun section, was recruited from the civilian side as an elite athlete to come here and compete for the AMU. I was world champion before, held all the world records in the men’s division, so I just stepped right in and joined the guys that were already here and just continued on my path towards my dream, which was to get to Beijing and win that gold medal.
(Levi) Where did you learn to shoot?
(Hancock) My father and brother were both competitive shooters growing up, so I’ve been around shotguns basically my entire life. Although I didn’t start actually competing or practicing until I was ten years old, it just felt like home to me. When I started out, I wasn’t great at it. It was challenging, so I wanted to come out and keep doing it. At 11 years old, almost when I was 12, I was introduced to the international game, which is what they shoot in the Olympics. What we shoot here in the United States is called American skeet and what we shoot there is called international skeet. The style is a little bit different; the targets are faster and we have to start with a down gun, which means the start of the gun has to be just about at our belly button, whereas in American skeet, it’s up-gun, the targets are slower, there’s a couple other things that are different about it. But when I was 11, I shot for the first time up in Atlanta where they held the 1996 Olympic Games and I fell in love with it. The first day out I shot extremely well, and I came back the next day and didn’t shoot good at all. I looked at my dad and I told him, ‘this is what I want to do. I want to go to the Olympics and I want to win a gold medal.’ This was the most challenging thing I had tried in my entire life. So, from that point on, I had a gold medal mindset.
(Levi) Do you think that your approach to the game has changed from ’08 to now?
(Hancock) I think so simply because, after the Olympics in 2008, I didn’t have any goals set after that. It was something that I had been dreaming about for eight years and had been working so hard for, so once I had accomplished it, I had never thought about anything afterwards. I rode the high for a little over a year after the Olympics.
I won the World Championships a year later in 2009, and then it just slowly started going downhill from there, bottoming out last year. I had two of the worst matches I’ve ever had in my entire life last year, and that’s when my wife noticed it told me, ‘you have to figure this thing out; either you don’t like it anymore and you can go do something else, I will support you 100 percent in anything that you want to do, or you need to figure this thing out and you need to get back into it and to rededicate yourself to it.’ So what we did was we thought about it a lot, we prayed about it a lot, and it finally came out to be that this is my passion, this is what I still loved to do.
I was going to put every ounce of being that I have into getting back on top. So I went out with renewed vigor this January to get out here and train. I started enjoying it again. Last year I hated it; I didn’t want to come out on the range at all. I didn’t want to compete, nothing. I just wasn’t enjoying myself. It all changed and I’ve been having so much more fun now. One of the biggest reasons was that I’ve been going to church more. My wife is the reason for that too, and the opportunity that God has given me over my entire career is something that I’ll always be thankful for. I’m just going to keep on trying to build my legacy and pass on my knowledge to all the kids that I can in the future and let them know what God has done for me.
(Levi) Do you think that your Olympic career or aspirations will change when you leave the military?
(Hancock) I’m going to continue my routine, but things are going to change [a little] because my father and I have established the Hancock Shooting Academy. Our mission is to go out and teach people the lessons that we’ve learned, whether it be in shooting or in life. I’ve been shooting for over for me, 13 years and for my dad over 40 years in shooting. My next stage is not only to compete and bring more medals back to myself and to my country, but it is purely to pass on things that otherwise I couldn’t do.
The youth organizations like the Scholastic Clay Target Program and the 4H are out there in the helping to bring kids into shooting sports. These kids, a lot of them can’t compete in sports like baseball or basketball or football, but they can come out here and learn how to shoot a shotgun or a rifle or a pistol. They don’t have to be elite athletes, because I firmly believe that this sport, although it’s good to have talent, you can get out of this sport what you put into it. And a lot of kids need something they can dedicate themselves to and learn from. It’s a good opportunity for kids to get out here and join a team and make friends. That’s how I had most of my friends when I was going through high school. I didn’t have time to play any other sports or to go to parties, so my friends were out there on the range helping me get ready for my dreams.
(Levi) Do you feel like you’re in a really good position to reach young veterans and young Americans that want to succeed in a sport or in shooting?
(Hancock) I definitely hope so, and that’s what I’m looking forward to. Even if I don’t win another medal for my entire career, I’ll have those two Olympic experiences that I can pass on. I think that I can help more people just by telling them my story: my ups and downs and everything I’ve been through.
We got two children (girls) under two years old, and my wife and I are happier than any couple I know around here. We’re just so thankful for the things we have and we don’t try to live above our means, just try to be ourselves. There’s only one thing that we have to really show ourselves for and that’s to God. As long as we do things the right way, the way we’re supposed to; we don’t adhere by the religious code or anything like that, we try to have a relationship with God. A couple of years ago when I was hitting the bottom I was unhappy because I really wasn’t doing the things I was supposed to be doing. Over the last year and a half, my wife has really helped me get back to church and to listen to the right things and that has changed my life so much. I can’t stress that enough. I think that if I can tell my story, that story, to the kids and even the veterans, whoever wants to listen, and then I can help anybody that wants to be out there as long as they’re also willing to help themselves.
(Levi) What does your wife think about the transition from your first Olympics to now?
(Hancock) We’ve been married since we were 19 years old. My wife and I were 19 when we got married. It was rocky at the beginning, of course, we were still very young and we hadn’t really grown together very much. We had a long distance relationship, but we were high school sweethearts. We knew that we loved each other and we knew that it was the right way, so we were determined to make it work. She has seen a big change in me over the last four years, and she’s been the reason for a lot of those changes. She’s a lot happier now because I’m happy. She sees the things that I’ve changed even on my own, the type of person that I’ve become.
I’m a much better father than I was even a year ago. I try to be a better dad and a husband every day that I go home. I try to never bring anything that’s bothering me back home and let my girl see that. My 2-year-old is very impressionable right now. She takes everything we say and we do, she does it. So I can’t afford her seeing daddy doing things that he’s not supposed to or getting upset, because I want her to be happy. My wife and I, we sit down and talk about things and try to work things out together. I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong is that they don’t talk enough. I know at the beginning of our relationship we didn’t. We held things back in, we just didn’t talk to each other. And if you’re not married you don’t necessarily need to have a girlfriend or a wife to be able to go talk to somebody about it. Find a friend that you can talk to. Nobody’s going to do the right things every single time, but if they have somebody they can talk to, get things off their minds, get things off the chest, they’re going to feel so much better about themselves and knowing that they don’t have to hold it back anymore.
(Levi) Do you have any concerns about transitioning into civilian life?
(Hancock) I think it is a little bit scary because this is what I’ve known my entire adult life. I’ve been in the military since I was 17 years old, so it’s going to be a big step for me and my family. But I think it’s something we’ve been trying to prepare for in the past couple of years, especially this last year. We’re going to embrace change because if you don’t like change, which I don’t, then you have to learn how to handle it. I think that’s one of the biggest things about being an athlete and the military, we have to make changes and decisions on the go. Going through change has helped me mature into the person I am today.
(Levi) How would you like to inspire people?
(Hancock) What I always tell everybody is that just by being a soldier you have an immediate impact on everybody you meet. The same can be said for being an athlete. Soldiers go out and we protect the people that can’t protect themselves, and we represent a nation on the forefront of the battlefield in the world. As such, we are the most impressionable people out there and people are always looking for us to do something wrong or to do something right. Sometimes things that go wrong are a bit more visible, but we have the opportunity and the ability to showcase the best of the United States and the best of ourselves as individuals. If you go out there and you do the right thing, you show people that you’re just like them. We’re not any better than them, we’re not any worse than them. We all make mistakes, we all do good things.
We can change the mindset of everybody around the world. A lot of people that see the world today, don’t think the United States is a very good country, but I know that being a citizen of the United States, a soldier in the military, and an athlete that represents their country, that we are the greatest nation on earth because we have the opportunity to be and do whatever we want. I know that there are a lot of people who understand that and there are a lot of people that don’t, but if I can change some of the people who don’t understand that and let them know that everything you do is under a microscope and as long as you do the right things, the godly things, and I don’t want to put the religious tone into it because I don’t believe in religious rules, but you have to be doing the right things to make the right impression. You have every day and if you go out and try to make the right impression on at least one person a day, then society’s going to be a little bit better.