Lucas Kozeniesky hadn’t even taken off his Olympic shooting jacket and gear in Rio de Janeiro before he’d made up his mind: He wanted to return and improve on his performance on the world’s largest stage.
The Fairfax marksman was disappointed — not at his 21st-place finish in the men’s 10-meter air rifle at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but in how he’d handled the pressure. Kozeniesky felt he lacked the self-control and discipline he needed to accomplish what he wanted in the Games. Heading into his senior year at North Carolina State after his Olympic experience, he was determined to improve.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m committing to the next four years of this,’” Kozeniesky said. “I’m not gonna let that be my only Olympic experience.”
The four years turned into five after the Olympics were postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn’t stop Kozeniesky from growing. He said his goal over that span was to improve and learn while retaining a sense of perspective about it all.
Kozeniesky did just that when he qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, tying the world record and setting a new national record at the Olympic Team trials in early 2020.
“It was not a surprise, it was like, ‘Yep, I did what I needed to do to get here,’” Kozeniesky said of making the team. “It wasn’t like this monumental huge thing. It was more of ‘OK, I checked that box. Now I’m going to Tokyo, let’s just focus from there.’”
He added that he was more deliberate about his preparation and performance during the trials, which led to the better result.
Kozeniesky, a graduate of Fairfax’s Robinson Secondary School, has always had a desire to rise to the top, according to his high school coach Dave Cunningham.
“He’s never lost that desire to be the best at it,” Cunningham said. “I think in high school, he realized this is a sport that he could do and do well, and better than a lot of people.”
Since his Olympic debut, Kozeniesky has made himself known at the international level, winning the 2019 Pan American Games and the 2021 Shooting World Cup gold medals.
Kozeniesky said the Pan American gold medal performance was a turning point after he ended up in the hospital with a kidney infection, his gear was stolen and his gun broke.
“It was a lot to handle,” Kozeniesky said. “So that really shifted my paradigm away from like, ‘Oh, I have to do this,’ to ‘I want to.’”
The biggest improvement from that competition was his maturity on the range, Kozeniesky said. He added that it allowed him to realize he can take care of himself and keep the focus on his objective while at competitions.
When Kozeniesky isn’t training, he’s helping others improve their craft in the sport with his shooting coaching business, Team Winning Solutions.
During the pandemic, he was able to continue coaching students via Zoom as they were at home, which allowed them to interact with each other and discuss their goals, he said.
Kozeniesky added that his business caters to athletes who are isolated and lack easily accessible coaching or access to a range.
“I can fill in that gap because they can stay at home,” Kozeniesky said.”I can facilitate actual good training.”
Through the business, Kozeniesky said he’s helped train more than two dozen athletes who went on to play at the collegiate level.
Kozeniesky will have a week in Tokyo before his competition begins and this year’s pre-event approach will be different than in Rio. He said he shot at the range every day in 2016 and it left him exhausted. This time around he’s come up with a deliberate plan to train that isn’t just spending his time on the range, but includes physical therapy and working out.
Kozeniesky hasn’t taken a shot on the Olympic range in Tokyo yet, but he already has his sights set on the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
“It’s just appreciating the growth I’ve had so far,” Kozeniesky said. “This is another stepping stone to the next thing as this … cycle of competing continues.”