9:38 PM EDT, September 14, 2011
Sam Sacksen set a new world Pentathlon shooting record en route to a fourth place finish Monday in the mixed relay at the World Pentathlon Championships in Moscow, Russia.
The Somerset native and 2008 Beijing Olympian’s time of 9.03 seconds for five shots includes loading, raising and firing his CO2 single-shot air pistol five times — and hitting the target each time — broke the previous record of 9.1.
“I didn’t know it was going on while I was competing,” Sacksen said. “My coach Janusz Peciak came down with a stop watch and said ‘Check your time, I think you just set a record.’ I was shocked. I have gone faster while training, but with the competition stress you really don’t think you can do it. My shooting overall in the competition was really good.”
The 25-year-old Sacksen and teammate Margaux Isaksen narrowly missed the medal stand during Monday’s event. Their point total of 6,092 was just four points behind the bronze medal Lithuanian team of Justinas Kinderis and Laura Asadauskaite. Sacksen started his leg of the relay in sixth position and passed teams from Ireland and Belarus on his way to the fourth spot.
The American duo had the only clean ride (a perfect 1,200 points) among the 18 teams in the riding event and had the second-best time in the combined run/shoot (13:52.00).
In fact, the horses that the U.S. team drew had been reserves for the individual competition and had registered some horrible scores (the Brazilian team managed only 240 points with the same horses). But Sacksen and Isaksen rode them to a perfect 1,200 points and received a standing ovation when they left the arena. Even the Russian coach remarked to them that he had never seen the horses ridden so well.
“I have had perfect scores in competitons before,” Sacksen said of the riding. “The difference with this one was the team before us didn’t even finish the course on those horses and then we went out half an hour later and scored a perfect with them. We just went into the ride thinking ‘Let’s not get hurt.’”
In the men’s individual final, Sacksen drew a particularly difficult horse which effectively put him out of contention. Sacksen, normally a very strong rider, simply had bad luck explained coach Peciak.
“It is part of the sport and we all know it can happen to anyone,” he said. “In this case, unfortunately, it was Sam, though I was delighted to see how strong he came back in the relay. Missing a medal by only four points against the best in the world shows great improvement. We will be ready in London.”
Sacksen added, “I wish the riding would have been reversed. I think I could have had a top 10 finish if I wouldn’t have almost fallen off the horse in the individual ride. It proved entertaining to the crowd though. I was glad I could come back and get redemption later with the perfect score.”
The World Championship meet drew nearly 200 athletes to Moscow this year.
Sacksen immediately start preparations for the Pan American Games which will be held on Oct. 15-16 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The Pan Am Games are a direct Olympic qualifier for the North and South American continents. A good performance at the Games will ensure a qualification spot at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England.
“I’m grateful to have a month of training to work on my swimming,” Sacksen said. “I need to be more consistent with practice and get some solid time in the pool.”
“I have a world of confidence in my running and shooting,” he added. “My fencing is going well. I’m feeling more confident with it. I hope to get out to a quick start at the games with a good showing in fencing and hopefully that will propel me to a podium finish.”
His short off-season, which runs from the end of the Pan Am Games to the first domestic qualifier in December, will find Sacksen training in Philadelphia, the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan, riding with his coach in Gainesville, Fla., and a fencing camp at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Co.
(Information for this story was provided by the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Pentathlon.)