Former Army Shooter Enters U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame
By Carol L. Bowers
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2008 Retired Army Lt. Col. Lones W. Wigger Jr., 70, a three-time Olympic military marksman himself, starts a new job with the beginning of the 2008 Olympics as narrator for MSNBC’s Web video coverage of marksmanship competitions in the Summer Games.
Wigger, whose career spanned 25 years, competed at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico and the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He won a combined two gold medals and one silver medal. Six Army marksmen are representing the United States in this summer's competitions in Beijing.
“It was great to make the Olympic team,” Wigger recalled in recent telephone interview. “You don’t think you’ll ever be good enough, and then you’re able to go the Olympics and actually win, and that’s the epitome of everything you ever thought about or dreamed about. The Army gave me that opportunity. I would never have realized anywhere near what I accomplished without that.”
Wigger grew up on a farm in Montana where, at age 10, his father taught him to shoot. “We had a local smallbore rifle league, a target shooting league, and that’s how I learned, from the men on the team and the other shooters in the league,” he said. “I set a goal for myself way back then that I wanted to go as far as I could.”
After graduating from college, he joined the Army because the service “was the only one that provided the opportunity to train and be supported to the level you needed to be to able to compete at the world level.”
Eight months after he graduated from college, Wigger went to officer training and was assigned to the Army Marksmanship Unit, at Fort Benning, Ga.
Still, after being in the Army for two years, the Olympic dream continued to elude Wigger. “I had goals and dreams to someday get good enough that I could make the Olympic team, but I was in the Army for two years and never progressed that far.”
Although he participated in the Pan Am Games in 1963 and won a silver medal in the smallbore rifle prone match, Wigger said, “I thought that was the only medal I’d ever win.”
Discouraged, he left the Army and headed back to Montana, anticipating working toward a master’s degree and a different career. He continued shooting, however, and victories at the National Rifle and Pistol Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio, rejuvenated him.
When he arrived home from the championships, a letter from the Army awaited him. “They needed people then, and they said that if I signed on the dotted line, because I’d only been gone six months, I could come back in the Army,” Wigger recalled. “So I called and asked, ‘Where would you send me?’ and they said, ‘Where to you want to go?’” The answer: Fort Benning and back to the marksmanship unit.
“I went back in one day after President Kennedy was assassinated,” Wigger said. “We drove through Dallas and by the bookstore and right by where he was killed. And I went back to the unit and started training again.”
The “big change” came in January 1964, when the unit acquired new Anschutz rifles, Wigger said. “It seemed like every time I practiced I shot better.”
In Europe on a training trip with competitions against marksman from other countries, Wigger visited the Anschutz factory and bought his own rifle. That same day, the Army marksmen began shooting their Olympic trials, and Wigger made the team.
“Inside of a year I had gone from nothing to winning a gold medal -- pretty unusual, but most of it was due to getting my new rifle and learning how to shoot it and learning how to it all came together,” Wigger said. “I couldn’t do anything wrong.”
He credits the Army and military life for helping him to learn perseverance and for giving him an opportunity not just to pursue Olympic dreams but for the chance to serve his country.
“I had two tours in Vietnam, 1967 and 1971, and I look at those tours as … two of the best years of my life because I was able to give something back to the military,” Wigger said. “I am very patriotic and maybe I look at that type of thing differently, but I think the way of life in the military and what it teaches you makes you a better person. I know it works. It worked for me.”
Actually, it worked beyond Wigger’s wildest dreams. He recently was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
With the addition of the Class of 2008, 213 athletes (including seven U.S. teams), coaches, and 13 special contributors to the U.S. Olympic Movement have been enshrined in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
“That’s really awesome,” Wigger said. “I didn’t think there was any chance I would be selected.” After all, Wigger noted, “I never gained any notoriety for winning a gold medal. Usually people say, ‘I didn’t know we had shooting in the Olympics.’”
As he prepared to narrate video footage from Beijing, Wigger said that all six Army shooters are capable of winning medals in the 2008 competition.
“It’s just a matter of performing at the top level on the particular day that they’re competing. Getting everything together, focusing on what they’re doing and performing on that particular day,” Wigger said. “Some may, and some probably won’t. It’s not a ‘gimme;’ you’ve got to earn it.”
The key, Wigger said, is a combination of training, preparation and a proper mindset.
“Shooting in Olympics is a little different than anything else.” Wigger said. “There is a lot of pressure, and people have a tendency to back into it and say, ‘I’m going to do best I can.’ You have to face the Olympics head on, and you have to think about it. You have to convince yourself that you can win. By thinking about it every day and putting yourself on firing line and going through it in your mind what you’re going to do, learn to accept you’ll be at the Olympic games and will be performing the level it takes to win.”
Another important element, Wigger said, is to visualize the victory and convince your subconscious that you can win.
“You have to think about performing well, performing at the level you want to, and you have to think, ‘This is the Olympics,’ and picture yourself on the awards stand with a medal around your neck with the national anthem playing,” Wigger said. “Once you convince your subconscious that you’re capable of winning, you’re almost there.”