Contributed by Sarah Knapp with photos courtesy USA Shooting
Imagine being 19 years old and in a different country, standing on an awards podium flanked by two of the best skeet shooters in the world, watching the American flag rise while the national anthem plays in the background. Pride for your country, your team and yourself all swell inside you.
This is a dream Eli Christman, who is from Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, never thought would come true until he found himself, along with teammates Nic Moschetti and Elijah Ellis, standing on the championship podium at the 2017 ISSF World Championships in Moscow, Russia. Christman, a member of Team USA Shooting at just 19 years old, has accomplished what many shooters could only dream of doing: representing the United States in countries across the world and bringing home championship titles.
When describing his experience of being a part of the U.S. Junior Team that earned the team bronze in Moscow, Christman was at a loss for words. He said it was a moment unlike any other and the most rewarding moment of his shooting career. The raw emotions flooding through him described the moment perfectly.
“Honestly that is the most… It’s one of the most… I was filled with the most pride when I was in Russia and our country’s flag was being raised on the pole, and you got to hear the United States National Anthem. There were so many other countries there, but yet ours was the one being played and you were one of the few wearing the colors… It was a very humbling experience,” Christman said.
Christman, who competes in International Skeet (I-Skeet), began shooting when he was a freshman at Soddy-Daisy High School in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. However, now a freshman at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee, he has been shooting I-Skeet for only two years.
When Christman began shooting, he did not know that he could even make Team USA or eventually compete at the Olympics. However, a chance encounter with Team USA and two-time Olympic gold medalist shooter Vincent Hancock at the 2015 SCTP National Championships in Sparta, Illinois, inspired him to give I-Skeet a try. He now competes with Hancock on Team USA, whom he has looked up to since they met in 2015.
“I was late in the game as far as competition-wise. Most people start when they are a bit younger than I was. I didn’t start shooting international skeet competitively until I was a junior in high school. I was rather old for not knowing what I was doing to begin with, so I had to make a lot of progress in order to get my in,” Christman said.
If his championship titles were not proof enough of his abilities, Christman has earned his place on Team USA three times now. He first received a nomination for the team after winning the silver medal at the 2017 National Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs. The same summer he medaled at the Junior Nationals and then made the Junior World Team in 2017. All three instances earned him a spot on Team USA.
“I was ecstatic. I knew going into the tournament that was on the line; of course I wasn’t focusing on that, but I knew very well that that was the goal of the tournament. That was the goal of everyone there shooting,” Christman said.
“[Team USA] was one of the main things I wanted from the very beginning. Even in the beginning, I really wanted to be a part of a team to just have that sense of pride in your country. That meant a lot to me.”
While most members of Team USA live in different states, the camaraderie when the members shoot together is unlike anything else, Christman said. Team USA gives “the opportunity to go travel places and shoot tournaments in different places and experiences to help you grow as an athlete,” he said.
Even as a freshman in college, Christman manages to dedicate time for both Team USA and the Martin Methodist Clay Target team, as well as himself to his education. A nursing major, Christman is determined to be a specialist in the medical field. Even being on two shooting teams on which he travels internationally through the school year, he has maintained a 3.98 GPA. Christman says it’s a challenge at times, but time management is the key to balancing his extracurricular activities.
“That’s just Eli,” said Dylan Owens, a fellow competitor and friend.
Emma Williams, a fellow Martin Methodist and Team USA shooter, has seen firsthand how Eli has improved and dedicated himself to the sport.
“Eli has improved not only as an athlete, but a person as well since we began shooting together. He is an outstanding shot and continues to improve and work on himself every day,” Williams said.
“He always pushes me to do my best and to train as hard as I can. He is one of the hardest working people that I’ve met, and that pushes me to work even harder so I can keep up with him.”
Christman trains six days a week for multiple hours to prepare for his upcoming tournaments and makes sure he is the best shooter he can possibly be. Focusing on putting himself in a tournament mindset, Christman treats every practice as if he is in final shoot-offs, which have become the most important events of his tournaments.
“If you can make it into the top 6 [of a tournament], it pretty much is up to the 60 targets in the finals. You have 60 targets to make it or break it, so that is what I am focusing on here lately.”
Christman will compete in the 2018 World Championships in Changwon, South Korea, in September and Porpetto, Italy, on the Junior Team in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.
“Tokyo 2020 is the goal,” Christman said.
Christman shoots a Krieghoff K-80, which he connected with immediately. Throughout the many guns he has shot during his career, Christman said the K-80 just clicked with him.
Sydney Carson, also a fellow Martin Methodist and Team USA shooter, said that shooting with Christman has made her a better shooter in many ways. His sportsmanship on and off the range pushes her to improve herself.
“Eli is the kind of person who will always help you better yourself. Whether it be in training, competition, school, or even just striving to be a better person, he is always setting a great example.”
Chad Whittenburg, head coach of the Martin Methodist Clay Target team, believes Christman will continue to succeed in the shooting sports no matter where he goes.
“The sky is the limit for this young man. He has the drive, the passion, the resources, the coaching and the environment to achieve any goal he sets. I have no doubt we will see him as an Olympian one day.”