“It was phenomenal. I don’t know if words will ever be able to truly describe the amazing moments of that day.”
McKenna Dahl’s sensational Paralympic bronze, the first shooting medal for a female US athlete, may have come as a surprise to many. The 20-year-old had only made her first R5 (mixed 10m air rifle prone SH2) final ever in January of this year, at an IPC Shooting World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, a mere eight months before the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
When asked how she stayed calm and composed in her first Paralympic final, her answer was matter-of-fact.
“I had dedicated the last six years of my life to this event,” Dahl said. “My training leading up to the Games helped me prepare for any pressure. My main goal was to keep my thoughts under control and nerves in check. Going into both the R5 match and final, I did not feel nervous. I was excited and ready to do what I had trained for. I wanted to show the world what I could do.”
After an already impressive qualification, where Dahl finished in third place, she also stayed in the top four throughout the first half of the final.
“Twelve shots in, I knew I was going to medal,” she recalled. “I am proud of how composed I stayed throughout the entire match and final.”
Dahl also asserted that she did not feel at all disappointed about South Korea’s Geunsoo Kim managing to move ahead of her and secure the silver at the very last moment: The US athlete’s final elimination shot for the bronze-medal position was 10.3 – Kim shot a 10.8.
“It was not the best shot I had in the final, but I was not disappointed either,” Dahl said. “I was proud to have earned my first ever medal in one of my main events at the Paralympic Games.”
The same, “no disappointment,” she said, is true about her Rio performance in the R4 (mixed 10m air rifle standing SH2) – on paper, a sobering 24th place in the qualification round.
“I have been struggling with R4 for the last year,” Dahl said. “I changed two key pieces of equipment in the summer of 2015 and it was too much. I chose to use the R4 as my practice match for prone to see how the pressure would be and how I would react to it. I put my focus on prone the months leading up to the Games and I think it was a smart move.”
A month after the Paralympics, the memories of her big day are still fresh, as she said: “It was phenomenal. I don’t know if words will ever be able to truly describe the amazing moments of that day.”
The celebrations are still ongoing.
Dahl just recently vacationed and celebrated with her family and friends in Washington State in the USA.
“I would not be here without their help,” she said. “They pushed me to achieve my wildest dreams.”
She also got to meet the President of the United States, Barack Obama, on a post-Paralympics trip to the White House, as she described: “That was an amazing experience all on its own.”
In terms of her future in the sport, Dahl, who picks up training in November, believes that her performance in Rio will inspire her to push herself even farther: “My Rio R5 match and final were solid performances. But in shooting, there is always room to improve.”