Soldier Becomes Oldest U.S. Woman Competitor in Olympic History
By Tim Hipps
Special to American Forces Press Service
BEIJING, Aug. 13, 2008 At age 56, Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Elizabeth “Libby” Callahan became the oldest U.S. woman competitor in Olympic history with a 25th-place finish in the women’s 25-meter pistol shooting event today at the Beijing Shooting Range Hall.
U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Elizabeth "Libby" Callahan, 56, prepares to pack her pistol after becoming the oldest U.S. woman ever to compete in the Olympics. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“I've been told oldest-ever female Olympian of any nation, of all time,” Callahan said. “But I don’t know if that’s right.”
USA Shooting officials could not confirm that claim. At any rate, Callahan certainly has withstood the test of time on the competitive pistol-shooting line.
“Well, it shows my longevity, I guess,” Callahan said with a laugh and a smile that rivaled the seemingly never-ending smiles of the Chinese hosts of the Beijing Games. “I’m just still kicking, and I’m not putting any restrictions on myself. It doesn’t say I have to stop at a certain age.
“In fact, the oldest Olympic medalist was in shooting,” she noted, “and he was 73, back in the early 1900s.”
Therefore, Callahan, a four-time Olympian, already is considering taking a shot at the 2012 London Games.
“I'm not ruling it out,” she said. “I'm not ruling anything out. I still feel good, and I still have that competitive fire in me.”
Callahan’s passion for pistol packing already has earned Summer Olympic trips to Barcelona, Atlanta and Athens, Greece, along with journeys to Hyderabad, India, for the Conseil Internationale du Sport Militaire’s 2007 Military World Games, and to Salinas, Puerto Rico, for the 2005 Championships of the Americas. She’s also competed in five world championships and as many Pan American Games.
After retiring in 2003 from a 28-year career with the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, Callahan moved from Upper Marlboro, Md., to Pawleys Island, S.C., to be closer to her seven older brothers and sisters. She now has an unprecedented amount of free time to sharpen her shooting skills and compete internationally.
“What I’ve probably done in a lot of areas is that I’ve tried too hard,” Callahan said. “I shoot great technique. I’ve been told this not just by U.S. coaches, but other international coaches. It’s just something’s happening just a few times in a match that throws me out of some competitions. That’s a mental thing. And you know, the brain, the mind, is a terrible thing.”
Callahan can easily laugh with herself -- seemingly oblivious to the fact that Father Time could be ticking on her athletic career. Her approach to the sport, however, remains unchanged as she approaches her 57th birthday.
“You still have to have the same mental approach, have to have the same techniques to execute the shot,” she said. “There may be a different perspective in maybe somebody who is younger or hasn’t been here before, but that’s just all part of experience -- just having general experience in life.
“Throughout shooting, you will find that some things work at a certain period of time, and then after a while it doesn’t work any more,” she continued, “so you maybe try something different. Maybe it’s your stance, maybe it’s your grip, maybe it’s your gun. There are always things that if something’s not working and you’ve worked at it for a while, OK, let’s try something different. How you execute, and how you execute under certain conditions, is always the important thing.
“I’m way [more] advanced than I was when I first started shooting,” she said, “but it’s some mental things that really grab me at certain times, and it hurts me in the match.”
Callahan did not advance to the final here, where gold medalist Gundegmaa Otryad of Mongolia equaled the Olympic record with a 590 total. Germany's Munkhbayar Dorjsuren won the silver medal with a score of 587. China’s Chen Ying took the bronze with a 585 total.
Callahan’s career-best Olympic finish was 19th in the 2004 sport pistol event in Athens, where she also placed 30th in the air pistol competition.
“Some days you’re really good. Some days you’re really bad. And some days you’re mediocre,” she said. “That’s what makes shooting interesting and, I guess, challenging. You can shoot a perfect score, and the next day go out and you aren’t diddly squat.”
Either way, Callahan always finds the resolve to shoot another day.
(Tim Hipps works in the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs Office.)