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NC State senior gets his shot at Rio Olympics

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Lucas Kozeniesky is headedto Rio de Janeiro as part of the US Team for Men's air rifle (WTVD)

Lucas Kozeniesky has to cancel a lot of summer plans, but he has a great excuse as the NC State rising senior hit a new target and a first for the Wolfpack rifle program.

"It didn't hit me immediately, but it hits me in chunks at a time like, 'Wow, this is cool,'" Kozeniesky said. "Only two people from our country get to do this every four years, and I'm one of them."

After a first place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Kozeniesky will now spend August in Rio de Janeiro as a part of the U.S. Team for Men's air rifle, and the perks of it all are still sinking in.

"They're going to give us suits [and] an Olympic ring," he said. "It's like, 'Oh wow, this is awesome. This is so cool.'"

Kozeniesky's NC State coach, Keith Miller, said he remained a bit calmer when the good news followed, but that didn't dull how proud he was of his pupil.

"It shows that you can accomplish a lot of stuff if you set your mind to it because we didn't have a history of this," Miller said. "He's our first Olympian from our team."

Lucas' path to the sport came on a whim in high school. His family has a military background, and after moving around, his dad told him to pick a sport. Turns out, rifle wasn't exactly his strong suit.

"After my freshman year of high school, I was the worst shooter on my team," Kozeniesky said. "I said, 'I'm going to get better at this. I like this, this is neat, and it's a unique sport. I want to do better at it,' and the rest is history."

He's come a long way. Earlier this year, Lucas became NC State's first air rifle All-American since 1975 and fired the highest score at NCAAs while finishing in the top 10. His improvement since coming to the Wolfpack program has a lot to do with his enhanced preparation.

"I've coached some hard workers - some maybe as hard [as Lucas] - but I think part of the big difference is he's a smarter worker now," Miller said.

In 10m air rifle, Lucas shoots a pellet no bigger than a pencil tip from thirty-three feet out. To succeed, mental and technical strength become crucial.

"In this specific event, it's like taking a very difficult putt. It's a long putt on the green. You're taking that same exact putt sixty times, and you need to hit 58, 59 of them, and the ones that miss need to be sitting there on the edge of the cup," Miller said. "That discipline to do that over and over perfectly is the challenge."

When he's not in the throes of competition, Lucas hopes to spend his less hectic moments during the Games just like we will at home - as a spectator. His Olympic bucket list includes catching swimming and ping pong, and of course, crossing paths with the sports world's finest.

"Being able to meet the other people, just other Olympians," is a big perk for the Wolfpack star.

"Other famous people who have taken these things and ideals, and they made it their lives, and they achieved all of these great things - that's just what I'm looking forward to being a part of."

Other than those moments, the ultimate souvenir for Kozeniesky?

A gold medal, of course.

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