In a memorable
article last Oct. 25, SI warned that Russia is threatening American supremacy
in track and field events to the point where she might outclass the U.S. team
in the 1956 Olympics. It is time to call attention to the fact that the
Russians have already won world leadership in another sports field no less
important, in the opinion of a great many sportsmen, than the track and field
athletics which we hold so dear. Last fall, in the 36th world championships of
the International Shooting Union at Caracas, Venezuela, Soviet shooters proved
that they were the best in the world with a rifle, and possibly the best with a
pistol as well.
The ISU holds its
championships every two years. In Europe they are considered more important
than the Olympics. If it is prestige the Russians are after, they got it at
Caracas. We sent our best shots there, and we were outclassed by the Soviet
team. And, in lesser degree, so was everyone else. It is true that with two or
three exceptions the matches were quite different from those commonly shot in
the U.S. But they were the kind of matches that determine world, as well as
For example, the
most important rifle match in the world is shot at 300 meters—328 yards. The
course of fire is more than 80 years old. It calls for 40 shots standing, 40
kneeling and 40 prone. The 120 shots must be fired in six and a half hours.
Like the other ISU matches it is both an individual and a team match.
Russians took over at Caracas, the world record for this famous course was
1,124. Anatoli Bogdanov, the highest scorer at the 1952 Olympics, shot 1,133 at
the ISU meet, breaking the 17-year-old record by nine points. His teammate,
Vassily Borisov, who is always close behind him, shot 1,132. Every one of
Russia's five-man team shot a higher score than has ever been shot in
competition by a citizen of the U.S. Our team took fifth place, behind the
Russians, the Swiss, the Swedes and the Finns.
The guns used in
the 300-meter course are called "free" rifles because there is so
little restriction on them. The rifle must not weigh more than 19 pounds and
the cartridge must not use a bullet larger than nine millimeters (.35 caliber)
in diameter. As a practical matter these restrictions are meaningless, since no
one wants a rifle heavier or of larger caliber than the rules permit. The only
restriction that matters is the one requiring iron sights; the telescopic sight
is not permitted.
The kind of rifle
developed under these rules is strange to most American rifle shooters and is
not made in this country. So far no American arms company makes a rifle barrel
heavy enough for 300-meter shooting. Four members of our five-man team at
Caracas—August Westergaard, Robert Sandager, Verle Wright and Allan Luke—shot
rifles imported from Europe.
Perhaps the most
striking feature of a free rifle is the stock. This commonly has a steep pistol
grip so the hand is close to the trigger, and a hole in the stock for the
thumb. The pronged buttplate is adjustable up and down for the three different
shooting positions. The trigger is very light. And most free rifles are fitted
with a black webbing strap that is stretched from the front to the rear sight
just above the barrel. This is to deflect heat waves rising from a hot barrel
so they will not interfere with the shooter's picture of his front sight and
common to the ISU championships and the Olympics, is similar to the 300-meter
match except that it is shot at 50 meters with .22 rifles on a reduced target.
Like the 300-meter match it calls for 40 shots standing, kneeling and prone.
The rifles are of the same general design as those made for 300-meter shooting
although they run a little lighter—13 or 14 pounds instead of 16 or 17.
Bogdanov was the winner with a world-record score. He shot 1,174—10 points
higher than the old record. And once more Borisov was right behind him with a
score of 1,172. Russia won the team match in this event. We took sixth