Thinking About The Olympics On July 4

Happy Independence Day, America! We hope you have a fun and safe Fourth of July. In our just completed July issye, we wrote about Northern California native Sagen Maddalena, a world-class shooter sergeant who serves in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit and will participate in her second consecutive Summer Olympics when she heads to Paris late this month. (Here’s our profile of Maddalena back in 2021, when she competed for but came up short of a medal in the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

We wrote larger profile in our sister magazine Alaska Sporting Journal – in college, Maddalena was an eight-time All-American shooter at the University of Alaska Fairbanks – that we’ll also share later this month when her two events in Paris get closer. For now, editor Chris Cocoles wrote this update on Maddalena in CS.

Californian Sagen Maddalena, a sergeant and member of the
U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, has won four World Championship
shooting medals but is hoping to reach the podium at this and
next month’s Summer Olympics in Paris.

When you want to follow the Olympics in real time, it can be a real challenge when the games are staged several time zones away.Granted, the DVR comes in handy to record live events when we’re supposed to catch our z’s.

But there’s something special about watching sports as they happen; hence, back in the 2021 Covid-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics, I stayed up late one night watching the women’s 50-meter rifle three-positions event on my laptop.Californian Sagen Maddalena, whom I wrote about in our July 2021 issue of California Sportsman, was competing in the final round and right in position for a medal. I recently caught up with Maddalena as she prepares for her second Summer Olympics trip this month in Paris and we talked about her previous experience.

“I had a bit of a missed shot in prone; I think it was one that went out the bottom a bit, so that kind of knocked me down the leaderboard. I think I was sitting around third. But once I got on my feet I wasn’t as proficient,” she says of the standing portion of the event (prone and kneeling represent the other shooting positions).Ultimately, Maddalena finished fifth in the event, but she’ll get another crack in the 50-meter rifle event, plus she also qualified in air rifle, so the sergeant who represents the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit will get two opportunities to bring a medal back home.

“I definitely wanted to podium and there was that tinge of, ‘Oh, you’re so close but not quite,’ but at the same time it kind of lit this fire. The need to go back was just so strong and to have that next opportunity, which I got,” the 30-year-old from Groveland, a Sierra community in Tuolumne County, tells me.Given the shorter gap between most Olympic cycles, the last three years have been a whirlwind of training, mental prep work and self-discovery for Maddalena.Since the near miss in Japan, she’s won a total of four World Championships medals in 2022 and 2023, including a bronze last year in the 50-meter rifle event she also qualified for in Tokyo.“

“Since the (Tokyo) games, I gained a new sense of confidence in myself; not like a cocky confidence but a sense of, ‘I can roll with these guys. I can compete and trust my training plan.’ And so I started seeing a lot more success and a lot closer successes; just being with those top 10 athletes in the world several times,” Maddalena says.

Both of her coaches, Team USA shooting coach Peter Durben, and Sergeant First Class Henry (Hank) Gray, the Army Marksmanship Unit’s assistant team chief in international rifle, like her chances to get that Olympic medal in Paris.

“She performed great at the Tokyo Olympics. We all got a glimpse of her overall talent and abilities, but she was still somewhat ‘new’ to winning on the world stage. Here we are three years later on our way to Paris and I think she is truly ready,” Gray says. “Sergeant Maddalena possesses a unique ability to truly address trouble areas, and not just practice the easy stuff. She has the discipline to keep fighting through the difficult times and tough stuff to make it better. She is ready for this one and we are excited to watch!”

Maddalena would love to get back to her Northern California home and fish in some of the Sierra rivers she grew up around, but the bass have been biting around her army base in Georgia. (SAGEN MADDALENA)

TRAVELING THE WORLD HAS its perks – Maddalena, based at Fort Moore, Georgia, has competed in Cairo, Egypt; Baku, Azerbaijan; and Santiago, Chile, sandwiched between her Olympic trips – but the frequent flier miles and bouts with jet lag mean less chances to visit her NorCal home.“When I get to leave (the base), I love my parents but I really don’t want to get back on an airplane,” she jokes.Still, her hometown, located around 3,000 feet in the Sierra less than 30 miles from the western entrance to Yosemite National Park, is a tempting destination. “Oh my goodness,” she says of Groveland. “Lots of great experiences.”

She’ll always cherish days with her dad Randy in that outdoor paradise.

“My dad and I would always hit the Tuolumne’s North and South Forks and get into that canyon, walk up and down. There’s where I always learned from what he always says: ‘Trust your balance’ in that rugged terrain out there flipping a fly,” Sagen says of Randy. “I’ve got a lot of great memories of fishing the creeks and the rivers in the Sierra.”

She’ll make it back home sometime soon, but she still gets her fix around the western Georgia base on the border with Alabama.“I can get out fishing pretty often and the big ones have been hitting lately. I pulled out an 8-pounder a few weeks ago. And that was a thrill. It’s all about the bass fishing and the (catfish) down here.”

“I definitely wanted to podium and there was that tinge of, ‘Oh, you’re so close but not quite,’ but at the same time it kind of lit
this fire,” Maddalena says of her previous and upcoming Olympics appearances. “The need to go back was just so strong and to have that next opportunity, which I got.”

TOKYO’S COVID RESTRICTIONS MADE for a unique experience that Maddalena loved regardless, but admittedly she’s stoked to soak in some of France’s culture that she wasn’t able to dive into in Tokyo.

She’ll surely get a look at Parisian cuisine – “I’m a foodie” – and sample the coffee shop culture and indulge in some of the country’s famed sweet treats. But make no mistake that this is a business trip first and foremost. Winning her first Olympic medal is the primary goal.

“The competition and opponents are the same she has faced for many years. But the Olympics are different,” Durben tells me. “Athletes face many outside distractions not typically encountered at other international competitions. By experiencing the games already in Tokyo, Sagen knows what to expect, has a solid plan and is prepared to minimize distractions so she can focus on her performance.”

And just how would it feel to get on that podium in either event?

“I can’t tell ya because there’s so much drive and desire to be up on that podium. Once I get there I have no idea what my emotions would even be like or the thoughts or any of that,” she says. “It’s a huge accomplishment to (medal) at the Olympics. It’s a goal and it’s a dream, and when you have a dream come true it’s such an emotional roller coaster of excitement and relief and joy. But at the same time I can’t foresee the future on that one.”

I know that if I am able, I’ll get up at a strange hour and cheer her on from the States. -Chris Cocoles