Though he’s now past 50, Matt Dryke’s eyes are still a penetrating icy blue.
In 1984 those eyes — and his astonishing skill with a shotgun — brought the Sequim native to Los Angeles where he competed in the XXIII Olympiad in skeet shooting.
It’s a sport that requires preternatural reflexes: the shooter must hit a small clay “pigeon” that is traveling 90 miles per hour 75 feet away.
Oh, and no cheating. The shotgun must remain tucked away on the hip until the target is in the air. Only then can the shooter take aim.
Dryke brought home the gold, an accomplishment that has since been immortalized in bronze with a bust of the young shooter permanently ensconced in a small shelter at Carrie Blake Park.
Dryke visited the bust this week with his wife, Yvonne, and their daughter Ellen.
He chuckled at the bust, which shows 23-year-old Dryke sporting a mustache.
“I grew a mustache to look older,” he said. “I shaved it to look younger.”
Dryke was born to shoot. His father, Chuck, started Sunnydell Shooting Grounds, which Matt and Yvonne now manage.
The elder Dryke began as a trainer of hunting dogs. But his customers kept telling him, “The dog did fine, but I couldn’t hit the bird.” So he slowly started developing the shooting range.
Chuck Dryke died Feb. 9 of this year and was recalled in eulogies for his own remarkable marksmanship.
Matt grew up on the shooting range. By the time he was a teenager he was locally famous for his prowess.
“Not to brag, but by 15 or 16 I was whipping everyone,” he said.
And then there were the tricks, including knocking down clay pigeons while wheeling around on a unicycle.
In time he got serious about the sport and eventually was chosen to represent the U.S. in the 1980 Olympics. The U.S. boycotted those Olympics as a protest of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
Dryke says there is always an element of politics in the Olympics, which he says is unfortunate. “Politics don’t have nothing to do with it,” he said.
He also competed in the 1988 Olympics, which he said were largely a washout for the American team. “Everyone on the shooting team got sick,” he said.
He returned to the Olympics for the last time in 1992, where he finished in sixth place in Barcelona. “I missed one bird and went from first to sixth,” he said.
Dryke says Sequim always has supported his efforts. In 1976, he attended his first Olympic tryouts in St. Louis, a trip made possible because “everyone in Sequim chipped in” to send him.
The community also chipped in to pay for the bronze bust now at the park.
Through most of his competitive career, Dryke was in the U.S. Army. Representatives from the Army were on hand at those tryouts in 1976. They were impressed with what they saw and invited him to join. For the next decade and more the Army paid his way — sort of. At that time only amateurs were allowed to participate in the Olympics. The Army allowed him to shoot every day, though he wasn’t exempted from any of the ordeals of being a G.I.
These days, he said, the military’s athletes “get support,” defined as money. “I would have liked to have had it.”
He said the governments of many of those he competed with “got so behind their athletes.” The Italian shooters, for example, received salaries of $50,000 to $60,000 annually and were provided with all the targets and shells they required.
It’s an expensive sport, Dryke said.
He’s now coaching Jaiden Grinnell, a Port Angeles woman who is one of the world’s most accomplished shooters.
Grinnell recently won the nationals in Women’s Skeet, in the process setting a new national record in the event. The record was formerly held by Kim Rhode, who this week won the Gold Medal in the event at the London Olympics.
Only one shooter is chosen to represent each nation in Women’s Skeet at the Olympics. Two men are chosen.
Dryke estimated that with the shells, coaching, targets and transportation, Grinnell’s training costs are somewhere around $100 a day.
Dryke, who also won three world championships and 10 U.S. championships, noted ruefully that if he’d dominated a more glamorous field for that long, “I’d be a millionaire.”
Dryke has enjoyed his life in shooting, which has allowed him to travel the world. In addition to the international competitions, he’s served as a consulting coach to the national shooting teams of Australia, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. He met Yvonne in 1995 when he was coaching the Peruvian shooting team. Yvonne was a pistol shooter on the team.
Dryke still enjoys shooting and believes he could be a world-class competitor, “if I had the time and money.”
On the other hand, he said, life in Sequim isn’t all bad. “These days I like to stay at home,” he said.