By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Nicco Campriani was tossing around a couple of pounds of precious metals, a pound of gold that he took out of London at gunpoint. In this case, Scotland Yard was not hot on his tail, considering he had won them honestly, a silver medal for a second place finish men’s 10m air rifle competition and that shiny Gold medal he had hanging around his neck in the 50m three positions competition.
It was an amazing performance and, as he would note later, “a great story,” but not really for any of the reasons you would imagine.
Olympic success, you see, is almost always seen as individual triumph, be it Mary Lou Retton in gymnastics, Usain Bolt on the track or Michael Phelps in the pool, but former WVU rifle champion Nicco Campriani was not about overlook a support team, two of whom flanked at him at a welcome home press conference in the new basketball facility.
To his right was his coach, Jon Hammond, who had shot in the same Olympics, a rather emotional return home to Great Britain, being a Scot and performing in a venue that had to send chills down the spine of any mad dog or Englishman.
“I have to share this with a lot of people here. First of all Jon. He brought me here. It’s the truth, without this experience I would not be at this level talking about medals,” he said.
And to his left was his girlfriend, Petra Zublasing, also an Olympic shooter from Italy and a WVU teammate, whom he would credit with saving him in his pursuit of the medal.
“For these,” he said, displaying his medals, “I really have to thank Petra. We shared the Olympic experience together and a lot of days she really saved me. She helped me recharge the battery.”
But there was someone special to whom Campriani would express his thinks, an absentee from the podium but one who may have had as much to do with his success than anyone but Campriani himself, the shy Dr. Ed Etzel, head of the sports psychology department at the school and himself an Olympic rifle champion from 1984.
“I want to thank the sports psychology department,” Campriani said. “You really have to be proud of what you have here. It’s unbelievable. I had a lot of experience back home with sports psychology and it didn’t work out good. But here it was a privilege to work with Dr. Ed Etzel, who was an Olympic champion in 1984.
“It’s just unbelievable, the mental preparation I’ve done the last three years. It was the real thing. It made a difference.”
One of the first people he visited upon returning to Morgantown from London three days ago was Etzel.
“He’s an interesting person. He didn’t hug me or anything like that,” Campriani said of the meeting. “He was really, really close to me, even during that week at the Village. I called him a lot of times.”
Separated by the Atlantic Ocean meant nothing with Skype available and so they would have eyeball-to-eyeball discussions, important discussions for Campriani’s mental well-being, and honestly, his sanity.
“The only difference between the Olympic Games and a World Cup and a World Championship is you have to deal with so many distractions. A lot of people talk about medals, they talk about outcomes. These are distractions and nothing else,” he said.
Etzel would help put his mind on track.
“You have to stay focused on your job, you have to stay in the moment. You talk with 20 or 30 people a day who talk about medals and, at the end of the day, before I go to bed, it’s nice to talk with someone who talks about technical elements and myself.”
And so it was a warm moment when they met, but if you know Etzel, you know it wasn’t emotional.
“When I saw him, we shook hands and smiled. It’s great, what he has done with me,” he said. “It was a great experience for me, but it was an adventure for him, too, going back to Olympic level shooting. I think we both succeeded.”
And then there was Petra. This was an interesting setting, boyfriend and girlfriend, each an Olympic competitor, the man the No. 1 shooter in the world.
And he needed her to save him.
“He says I saved him simply because when he said he was freaking out, I was not. It’s hard to be at the Olympics as a couple because you try not to be in two Olympics. You have your own Olympics and you don’t want to be in your boyfriend’s,” she said.
“It’s a hard thing to do but we did a great job of it. When he was stressed out, I tried to assure him. I wanted him to know whatever happened I would be there. Like, if you lose tomorrow, it’s not going to matter to me. I’ll still like you. I liked you before and I like you now.”
She did not come home with a medal, but she realizes that she played a huge role in his and was not in any way disappointed in her own performance.
“In my competitions, I did everything could. I left time for myself to prepare as best I could. I shot a great match. I learned lots of stuff. It was hard for me at the beginning to understand that since I didn’t win a medal I didn’t do bad … but I really didn’t do bad.”
And now she begins preparing for Rio and the 2016 Olympics. By then, who knows, maybe they will dominate, for Campriani will be there, too, for his final go-round as an Olympic athlete.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.