Since 1956, the Air Force Academy's rifle program was coached by military officers. Capt Justin Broughton coached the team from 1998-2005. After he retired from active duty in the Air Force, Broughton became the Academy's first civilian rifle coach in over 50 years. Broughton left the Academy in 2006, and the team was under the leadership of Lt. Col. Bill Roy from 2006-2007. In 2007, Launi Meili was hired as the team's second civilian coach.
Meili is an experienced athlete and coach who started shooting in her hometown of Spokane, Wash., at the Spokane Junior Gun Club and Cheney American Legion Junior Gun Club. Meili's rifle equipment of choice is the Anschutz smallbore or .22 rifle in the three-position event. Meili is a 1992 Olympic Gold Medal (Barcelona) winner in three-position smallbore rifle. In 1988 at the Olympics in Seoul, she placed sixth in air rifle and seventh in the three-position rifle. She is a seven-time national champion in the three-position rifle and set three Olympic world records and holds numerous other national records.
Since her arrival, the team has experienced its share of growing pains, learning new techniques and accepting new challenges. Following is a Q&A with AFA Rifle Coach Launi Meili about her shooting career, her experiences and coaching at the Air Force Academy.
Q&A with AFA Rifle coach Launi Meili
WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU BEGIN SHOOTING, WHO WAS YOUR MENTOR?
I got started at the Spokane Junior Gun Club with Bill Havercroft, and then shot at the Cheney American Legion Junior Gun club with Wally Beard. Both mentor's really supported my goals and helped me see where shooting could take me.
WHAT THOUGHTS GO THROUGH A SHOOTER'S MIND WHILE ON THE COMPETION LINE?
There is always a lot of "self-talk" going on in a shooter's mind. The important aspect is to determine whether it's constructive or destructive. A shooter needs to develop a "blue print" or shot plan that accounts for the time from the last shot to the next shot, and helps them do and "say" all the things needed to make the current shot successful. Self-talk is the frame work for that blue print to remind them to check certain physical and mental elements in the shot to be sure everything is accounted for.
WHAT IS YOUR SPECIALIZED SPORT EQUIPMENT FOR COMPETITION?
We shoot a smallbore or .22 rifle in the three-position event (20 shots prone, standing, and kneeling) and we shoot an air rifle or .177 pellet rifle for the 60 shot standing event.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TECHNIQUES FOR EACH RIFLE?
The smallbore event uses a rifle that is fully adjustable to a shooters body. The butt-plate or hook can be moved to many different positions so that it fits exactly the dimensions of the shooters shoulder and arm-pit to support the rifle. The cheek-piece can be moved to exactly fit the shooters face and where they need to rest the cheek to look directly through the sights. It takes many weeks to get a rifle to fit just right to provide the best balance and natural fit for the position.
The air rifle is more of a standard rifle. It doesn't have the adjustments available with the smallbore rifle and that is set by the rules of the event. The air rifle doesn't have a hook on the butt-plate, and you can't use a palm rests like in the smallbore event to help raise the rifle in the standing position. Shooters either use a fist or other hand positions to help get the gun in the right position.
HOW DO SHOOTERS SPEND THEIR DOWNTIME?
Usually working out, hiking, studying, or going out to eat. Some do ski and sky dive, but we don't want them doing those activities until the season is over.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE AS A COMPETITOR OR COACH?
As a competitor, it was definitely winning the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona. After 18 years of work, there was complete joy, relief and a feeling that all the people who helped me along the way were right up on that stand with me. I just told myself before the match started that I was going to use everything I've learned along the way and go to work. After falling in the final from first to sixth place in the last Olympics, I was bound and determined to maintain my lead for the last 10 shots and finish as strong as I started. It took those next four years to really figure out how to stay mentally tough when it really counted.
WHAT DREW YOU TO AIR FORCE ACADEMY (AFA) COACHING?
I'm always drawn to a challenge. The last place I coached had a women's team only. With a smaller pool of athletes to recruit from, and then develop, it was a challenge to take that team to the top competing against mixed teams of men and women. At Air Force we have a challenge to get recruits that are qualified academically and then actually get an appointment. And after they are here, there is a big challenge for their time due to the academic load. But once we have the team in place and the year started, there is a lot of motivation and the team works very hard to obtain the goals they set for themselves. There is a lot of pride on the team and they really support one another in all they do.
WHAT IS THE MISSION OF AFA SHOOTING PROGRAM?
To compete and win at the national level is our mission.
WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA OR TECHNIQUES YOU USE FOR COACHING AFA SHOOTERS?
We use a cooperative approach to work with our athletes. We also split the season into different phases where the first part is focused on the physical aspects of the sport. The next part is focused on the mental aspects where they really learn to perform under pressure.
HOW MANY SHOOTING MATCHES DOES AFA HOST?
Only three this year, but last year it worked out that we hosted four matches.
HOW WOULD SOMEONE GET STARTED IN SHOOTING?
At their local shooting range, through the American Legion Shooting Sports, 4H Shooting Sports, CMP, JROTC, some schools have rifle teams, and even looking into their State Fish and Game departments might lead to local shooting clubs.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU AS A FORMER/ACTIVE ATHLETE OR AS COACH?
Mike (Mike Anti, assistant coach) and I have years of experience at all levels in rifle shooting. From beginners at a local junior clubs, to collegiate All-Americans, to US National Team Members, to Olympic medalists, we have covered the entire spectrum possible in this sport. We are now ready to give all we've learned to the next great generation of shooters coming up to represent our school and the nation. Talk about a "heavy medal" coaching staff!
ABOUT THIS SEASON:
THE SEASON OPENS WITH A MATCH AGAINST NEBARSKA IN LINCOLN; WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR EXPECTATION FOR THIS MATCH AND THE REMAINING SEASON?
We expect to open up strong against University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and if we shoot the scores we have been shooting in practice, have the chance to take that first match. West Virginia University won the NCAA national championships last year and is very strong in air rifle. We will be competitive against them in smallbore, but will really need to bring our A+ game to compete with them in air rifle.
TALK A LITTLE ABOUT SOME OF YOUR TOP OPPONENTS (ALASKA, TCU AND NEVADA-RENO, ETC.). WHAT WILL THE AFA SHOOTERS NEED TO DO IN ORDER TO ADVANCE THEIR SCORES?
In order to make it to the NCAA nationals, we need to shoot around 4630 in every match. It takes three of those scores in the season, plus the score shot at the NCAA qualifier in February to make it to nationals. So whether we are shooting against a strong opponent or not, we need to shoot a score that will help us qualify. Certainly shooting against a strong opponent brings out the best in you, but we need to perform no matter which opponent is on the line with us.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE AFA MARKSMAN TO WATCH THIS SEASON?
You can always plan on our experienced juniors, Tom Chandler and Nick Krieger. We expect great things out of our returning sophomores, Pat Everson, Mike Seery and Kyle Phillips. Freshman Kurt Hakola is already showing signs of cracking the top four and freshmen Ben York and Matt Kluckman are right behind.