The SSAA Action Match team has enjoyed stunning success at this year’s Bianchi Cup in Columbia, Missouri. The foursome of Mark Blake (Baranduda, Victoria), John Beck (Raceview, Queensland), Tony Drabsch (Parkes, New South Wales) and Craig Ginger (Sydney) won the International Team Championship and repeated the feat in the Action Pistol Team Championship.
SSAA team member Cherie Blake came fifth with a score of 1892-136x in the Women’s Division, with only seven points separating the four competitors who finished behind the winner, Victorian Anita Mackiewicz (1916-166x). Anita truly demonstrated her ability to perform under pressure by notching seventh place overall. New Zealand’s rising star, 21-year-old Tiffany Piper, from Auckland, who is a former Bianchi junior champion, came second in the Ladies category and 34th overall. Tiffany shot 1899, which edged out multiple-time former Ladies champion Jessie Duff in third spot. The big-name American carded 1897 to rank 37th overall.
Mark Blake also won (1916-170x) the International Division and was sixth overall, with his impressive display polishing off months of hard work, training and preparation. There were close to 300 competitors and on the last day, with all of them having shot three of the four matches, only 10 shot perfect scores. In this elite group were SSAA pair Mark Blake and Craig Ginger. Action Match can be a tough assignment at the best of times, but during the Bianchi Cup, there is a deliberate effort to build pressure as the plot unfolds, culminating on the closing day with the hardest event left for the top-ranked shooters. It becomes a test of mental toughness as much as precise aim. At the end of a tense program, with various TV crews and press photographers capturing the concluding shots, Ginger’s solid efforts, combined with his metallic sight handgun, helped him secure fourth place in the multi-gun event. Mark Blake did well again, to follow Ginger home in fifth spot.
Missouri in summer is not the time of year to expect weather that sent competitors and spectators dashing to retail outlets thoughout the opening day, seeking warmer clothing and wet climate gear. Watching the shooters walk through puddles of water, contemplating going prone in miserable conditions and their hot breath creating fog in the freezing temperatures made onlookers appreciate the relative comfort of being on the sidelines at Bianchi 2015. Day one’s arctic blast gave way to milder settings for the remaining two days and some very good efforts were delivered to the scoring shed. From the outset, the strength of the line-up for 2015 was apparent.
To their credit, the entire SSAA team had prepared itself admirably for the rigours of Bianchi by competing in the Kansas City-based Flagler Cup with other Australian competitors. This build-up also included several visits to the Bianchi Cup practice range for final adjustments and testing of the equipment that was reloaded on site.
Bianchi is a mix of firearm owners who have known each other for years - a place where old friendships are rekindled by enthusiasts who travel thousands of miles to compete with varying degrees of excellence at the world’s toughest handgun match. It is a place where people are comfortable in each other’s presence, notwithstanding the underlying degree of rivalry. The invitational tournament is one of the most prestigious in the world and also one of the richest, with bumper prize money on offer. The SSAA regularly sends a team to take on shooters from around the world and has enjoyed frequent success.
There was little surprise that the 2015 overall winner was American legend Doug Koenig, who secured his 16th NRA Action Pistol title. Koenig’s final score was a perfect 1920 with 180 tie-breaking xs. This outdid countryman and fellow perfect shooter Jeremy Newell, who claimed the runner-up spot with 166x. Carl Bernosky, a 10-time NRA High Power Rifle Championship winner, finished third overall with 1918-180x. Koenig’s success at the Bianchi Cup is unrivalled. The next most wins have been collected by New Jersey-born Bruce Piatt, who has five.
The tournament’s opening day remained a talking point due to the freakishly harsh and rainy weather that found many competitors needing to stand in or straddle puddles while shooting their matches. “I’ve never shot under those types of conditions here,” Koenig said. “It was cold and miserable.” But the American ace was pleased with the eventual outcome. “The winning...I’m not going to say it’s not great...But it’s really not about the scores. It’s about the friendships and the people, the stories and the jokes, all the things that go on at the practice range, and crazy things that happen at the match. Those are the things that I’ll always remember and that’s what makes the Bianchi Cup important.