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Prose and Kohn

Sarasota rifle shooter seeks gold in Paris

Mary Tucker will compete in two events at the 2024 Paris Olympics this month.

Sarasota's Mary Tucker is an advocate for athletes talking about their mental health struggles.
Sarasota's Mary Tucker is an advocate for athletes talking about their mental health struggles.
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Mary Tucker misses burritos. 

They are one thing Tucker cannot find in the Czech Republic. 

"There is no Mexican food here at all," Tucker said. "Coming from Florida, where there is so much Mexican and Spanish influence in the food, it's especially hard. Like, what do you mean I can't get a burrito?" 

As much as Tucker yearns for meat, cheese, rice and veggies wrapped in a warm tortilla, she's made per peace with the Czech Republic's limited food options. In other aspects of her life, the central European country is a perfect fit. 

Tucker, the former Sarasota Military Academy rifle shooter, is living there to train with her personal coach, Matt Emmons, who is a three-time Olympic medalist. Tucker, 22, is an Olympic medalist herself: She took silver in the Mixed Team Air Rifle alongside Lucas Kozeniesky at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

At the 2024 Paris Olympics, Tucker will be going for gold. She will compete in both the women’s air rifle and the women's smallbore rifle.

Tucker said she feels physically and mentally prepared to win this time. 

"I visualize myself on the podium, receiving medals, even doing interviews, just to get in that scenario," Tucker said. "I have been on that range before, so I (mentally) put myself on the line. I'll run through my match and different shots and scenarios so when I get there, it will feel like I've done it 100 times already." 

Sarasota's Mary Tucker is going to her second Olympics this month in Paris, competing in the women’s air rifle and the women's smallbore rifle.
Courtesy image

Tucker will not technically be in Paris during the Olympics. The rifle competitions will take place at the Châteauroux Shooting Centre in the town of Déols, approximately two hours from Paris. In that way, Tucker will not get the full Olympic experience, which she called a disappointment. But she also recalled her Tokyo Olympics experience fondly, unlike Sarasota rower Clark Dean, so she's content with completely focusing on the competition this time. 

Though Tucker has only been to one Olympics, she's competed in several international events and landed on top. Tucker won the women's 50-meter smallbore rifle and the mixed team air rifle at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile. She also helped the women’s 50-meter rifle three-positions team take gold at the 2023 ISSF World Shooting Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan. 

Compared to those events, Tucker said, the Olympics do not seem as daunting. There are less competitors per country at the Olympics, Tucker said, which lowers the overall level of competition — though Tucker expects the Paris games to be more intense in that regard than Tokyo, as several of the world's best shooters have qualified through a new world ranking system. 

The biggest difference between this year's Olympics and the 2020 Olympics? For Tucker, it is the changes she made to her outfit. That may sound trivial to anyone unfamiliar with rifle shooting, but it matters to the athletes. Each athlete receives a custom-fit suit to wear during competitions, and Tucker's coach suggested some modifications for this year's event — tighter in some areas, looser in others — that will allow Tucker to feel more comfortable in her shooting positions and ultimately lead to a higher score. 

"I was like, 'That's crazy,'" Tucker said with a laugh, recalling her coach's advice. "But he was right." 

Sarasota's Mary Tucker took silver in the mixed team air rifle alongside Lucas Kozeniesky at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Courtesy image

Tucker has also been working on herself.  Not just in terms of her competition visualizations, which have become part of her routine, but in her everyday life. Tucker is an advocate for athletes speaking out about their mental health. Athletes have a lot of emotions, Tucker said, and when they don't know how to deal with those feelings in a healthy way, they can have negative effects. It can start at an early age, she said. 

"In middle school, I was temperamental," Tucker said. "Just ask my mom (Jennifer Tucker-Mogensen). I was not fun to be around. I did not know how to deal with those emotions. When I got to high school, I started realizing that maybe it was a problem, but I didn't have a way to exit it." 

In college — first at the University of Kentucky, then at West Virginia University — Tucker had access to therapists and sports psychologists. By talking to them, Tucker said, she learned why she was feeling the emotions she felt. Instead of feeling like there was something wrong with her, Tucker said, she felt validated. 

"Going through that journey changed me as a person," Tucker said. "I ended up transferring universities, and I found the people that I was actually supposed to be around. And seeing young athletes coming in, I don't want them to have to go through the same process of struggling in sports for so long until they finally figure it out. They should be about to talk about it and get the help they need early in their careers so they can flourish." 

Tucker is finally where she is supposed to be, in her mind and on her feet. She feels good, and she's prepared. At West Virginia, and now in the Czech Republic, Tucker has discovered who she is and how she can achieve her dreams. 

The only things missing?

An Olympic gold medal and a burrito. 

Tucker could have both soon.



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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