By Lucas Gulotta, Olympic Writer
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The shooting sports will once again be contested at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. From just five shooting events at the inaugural 1896 Olympic Games to 15 today, the sport has grown steadily alongside the advance in firearms technology.
The events are split into three different areas (rifle, pistol and shotgun), with men having one additional event in each section. The rifle and pistol competitions are held on shooting ranges where the marksmen aim at targets at distances of 10, 25, and 50 meters.
In the shotgun event, the competitors shoot at clay targets. Both men and women will compete in 50m rifle 3-position and 10m air rifle events, with the men adding 50m rifle to their plate. In pistol shooting, both sexes take aim in 10m air pistol, while women add 25m pistol to their slate. The men contend in 50m pistol and 25m rapid fire pistol as well.
Men and women try to remain steady in the shotgun which includes trap and skeet shooting. The men will also be contending with double trap as well, meaning two targets are released simultaneously. The shotgun events are the ones that include the clay targets, which are sent flying at the shooter's command.
In both the rifle and pistol events 10-ring targets are utilized, with a number of the individual rounds having their own unique set of rules which shooters must follow in order to score points.
The United States has had the most success in shooting, as the nation's 50 gold medals more than doubles China's 19, which is the second highest total of any nation.
In Beijing four years ago the Americans were poised to add to that impressive total, but they won two medals of each kind to finish second in the competition. China's finish of five gold medals and eight total medals gave the then host nation the highest total.
The current owner of both the Olympic and World records in the men's 50m rifle 3 positions is Rajmond Debevec of Slovenia. Debevec, 49, is entering his eighth consecutive Olympic Games, dating back to 1984 and joins the very small group of athletes to make eight trips to the Olympics. Debevec earned the bronze medal in 2008, while Yiriy Sukhorukov of the Ukraine won the silver and Qui Jian of China took home the gold.
The USA Shooting team's Joshua Richmond is among the top double trap shooters in the world. Richmond did a tour of duty in Afghanistan in the fall after qualifying for the Olympics with a world championship win in 2010. America's top double trap shooter has never participated in the Summer Games.
Two-time Olympic medalist Matt Emmons recovered from thyroid cancer in the latter part of 2010 and will be competing in his third straight Olympics despite his personal challenges. The Men's Prone Rifle shooter will be looking for his third straight medal winning performance after winning the gold in 2004 and a silver medal in 2008. Emmons's wife, Katerina, shoots for the Czech Republic national team. She managed to win a bronze medal in the 10m air rifle event in Athens and gold in the same event in Beijing.
Kim Rhode will be participating in the skeet and trap shooting events in London. Rhode could become the first American athlete to medal in five straight Olympics in an individual sport in history if she reaches the podium again. The American shooter won gold in the double trap event in 1996 and 2004.
Jamie Beyerle Gray is one of the top three-position shooters in the world and has built a reputation as a strong finals shooter. She will be representing the USA in the Women's 50 m Rifle Position and is also qualified to shoot Women's 10 m Air Rifle.
Emil Milev set a national record and tied the world record during the trials round to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Milev, who represented Bulgaria in the Olympics four separate times, will compete in the 25m rapid fire pistol event with Keith Sanderson.
Cory Niefer went to Beijing in 2008 as a coach after failing to qualify, however this time around he will be a shooter in two events for the Canadian Team. The 13-time Canadian air-rifle men's champion gained experience and knowledge of the necessary preparation needed from his coaching stint in the most recent Summer Games.
Tomoyuki Matsuda of Japan is one of the favorites to win the men's 50m pistol event and just won at the World Cup London test event.
Alberto Fernandez is one of the Spanish Olympic team's top potential medal winners. Fernandez won the 2010 world and European championships to punch his ticket to London. The Spaniard struggled in his first Olympic games in 2008, but he has shown drastic improvement since struggling in Beijing.
India will be sending 11 shooters to London, which is the highest total in the nation's history.
Russell Mark and Michael Diamond will compete in their sixth Olympics after being selected to the 17-member Australian shooting team for the London Games. Diamond is a two-time gold medalist and Mark won the gold in Atlanta in 1996.
The shooting event begins on Saturday, July 28 and will run through Monday, August 6 at the Royal Artillery Barracks.
07/10 16:10:50 ET