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Vincent Hancock defends skeet shooting gold

LONDON — Vincent Hancock nearly retired from competition a year ago, then decided to chase another Olympic gold medal. Smart move.

At 23, Hancock is a two-time Olympic champion in men’s skeet shooting, successfully defending his crown Tuesday with a score of 148 to take the top spot at the London Games.

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Anders Golding of Denmark finished two targets back to win the silver, and Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiya won a shoot-off over Russia’s Valery Shomin for the bronze at the Royal Artillery Barracks.

‘‘Being able to stand back up there again and listen to the national anthem again, it’s got to be better,’’ said Hancock, a US Army sergeant and the first skeet shooter to win consecutive Olympic titles. ‘‘But it hasn’t set in fully yet.’’

Hancock’s win gave the US a skeet sweep after Kimberly Rhode won the women’s competition earlier this week.

After setting an Olympic record with a score of 123 out of a possible 125 in qualifying Tuesday, Hancock entered the medal round with a one-target lead. When Golding missed, Hancock’s lead was two with seven targets remaining.

In skeet, that’s massive.

‘‘I had no chance,’’ Golding said.

Frank Thompson of Alliance, Neb., failed to reach the final, placing eighth in qualifying with a score of 119, one target shy of getting into a shoot-off for the final medal-round spot.

Hancock was by far the youngest competitor in the final. At 23, he is five years younger than anyone else in the field and 14 years younger than the average of the medal-round qualifiers, who range from 28 to 43.

Hancock clinched this win on his next-to-last shot, made his last for good measure, then spun around and punched the air in celebration.

At the Beijing Games, he may have been a bit of a surprise winner, even though he was already a world champion. In London, he was the favorite, and made good on a promise uttered at a rally in his native Georgia four years ago.

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