High Standard & Olympic Glory

High Standard & Olympic Glory

High Standard pistols are well regarded as some of the finest American competitive .22 caliber match pistols ever made.  In domestic competitions, they began to really draw attention shortly after the Second World War. The spike in their popularity was largely due to G.I.’s returning home from service that had become familiar with these pistols during their military training. In 1942 the U.S. War Department had purchased thousands of the Model H-D pistols from High Standard for training purposes as part of an effort to conserve the more expensive .45 ACP ammunition used in the standard issue 1911’s. They also found the quieter and lighter recoiling .22 calibers to be ideal for acclimating new shooters to the fundamentals of pistol handling.

HD Military Pistol

There was a point after the war when about 90% of the guns on the firing line at the NRA and other domestic competitions were made by High Standard. The closest competitor was the Smith & Wesson Model 41, and that saw very little commercial success in comparison.

Although their pistols managed to dominate these competitions, High Standard had not yet made its mark on the broader population. To do this they knew that they would have to build a target pistol that could compete on an international level, and more precisely the Olympic rapid-fire event. An event that was inundated for years by European guns like Hammerli and Walther, and one that was structured far different than what most American shooters were accustomed to.

Hammerli Pistol

The rapid-fire competition was a timed three round event with each series of shooting allowing less and less time. Competitors would need to hit five silhouetted targets with five shots in each stage as quickly as possible, making the pistols accuracy and shot recovery paramount to the shooters success.  The progression would lead to the final match that would require a pistol that could be drawn on target and fired effectively in less than 4 seconds.

High Standards' first effort at making a pistol worthy of Olympic competition came in 1949 as part of their G series pistol line. The Model G-O (sometimes referred to as the first Olympic) chambered in the low recoiling .22 Short had an aluminum alloy slide, which was the first significant use of the material in a pistol. It also came standard with target grips and could be purchased with a 4-1/2” or 6-3/4” barrels, or both if the shooter so desired. The most unique feature of the G-O was its curved magazine, which was hand fitted to each gun, and for this reason was often marked with a matching serial number. No doubt this is a valuable characteristic to a modern collector, but it was surely a handicap for a competitive shooter.

The design of these pistols required substantial amounts of machine work to create their intricate parts. This led to the cost of production being high and requiring far too much effort to manufacture. After a short two-year period, High Standard moved on from the G Series and introduced a new line up of pistols that were all built using an identical frame to limit production cost and time.

The first pistol to actually be called the Olympic came as part of the Supermatic series. The new design underwent several changes like a new stamped safety and thumb switch, which in turn warranted minor changes to the slide and the incorporation of a larger grip design, as well as adjustable sights and an automatic slide lock. These pistols marked the change to a medium weight thinner barrel than that which was used on previous models. The new barrel made it possible for competitors to incorporate barrel weights, which allowed the shooter to customize and tailor their gun to their individual shooting needs. Possibly the best change was that the curved magazine was eliminated and they went to a more standard type magazine that could be easily swapped out without being tailored to the specific pistol. The aluminum alloy slide remained for the .22 Short chambered Olympic, as did the options in barrel sizes.

High Standard Olympic

In 1954, the Supermatic 101 Series debuted, and is often regarded as the transitional model to the more modern style pistols. The 101 Olympic model came with a push-button barrel release, which replaced the lever takedown seen on all previous models. This made way for another redesigned frame that appeared to have a smoother contour at the front of the trigger guard. With the new barrel release, the pistols no longer needed the barrel catch pin, and to further its new sleek look, the magazine catch was slimmed down as well. It also marked the first use of model number designations by the company. The 101 series would also see several changes that were geared towards achieving the goal of a better competitive target pistol. The adjustable front sights used previously were replaced by fixed sights that were tailored to the two available barrel lengths, and for the first time in an American pistol an integrated stabilizer was added to reduce the recoil jump of the muzzle. This third installment of the Olympic style pistol saw a considerable boost in production over its predecessors, and found its way into competition in both domestic and international events.

Despite all the success of the 101 series, High Standard had not yet achieved the glory of Olympic gold in the rapid-fire event. In 1957 the 101 pistols would be retired and High Standard would give a complete overhaul to their pistol lineup.

Enter the 102 Series, a completely new take on the High Standard target pistols. The changes that came with this new line were many. At the forefront was the re-engineering of the internals, such as the hammer, sear and firing pin, that made the action of the pistol smooth and effortless. The takedown system was also improved upon making assembly and disassembly much easier.

The outward appearance saw a dramatic change as well, keeping only the grip angle from the 101, while rounding the edges and surfaces of much of the frame and lengthening it beyond any of their earlier pistols. The back strap, which typically held a rounded shape, was now straightened and helped give the pistols a futuristic styling. They returned to a larger magazine catch, but inletted the area to allow it to sit flush. The safety was moved back slightly and changed from a button to a grooved lever, and the trigger was now much wider and featured sure grip serrations.

From a competition standpoint some of the best improvements came with the new rear target sight and barrel options. The sight had a new easy to find notched rear plate and large screws for windage and elevation adjustment, which also featured directional arrows for quick and easy corrections. Barrels available in various lengths and the variety of weights allowed target shooters to find their individual comfort zone.

The 102 series was truly their strongest effort yet to give the European Hammerli and Walther pistols a run for their money at the rapid-fire event. But would it be enough?

The next opportunity to compete for gold would come at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. In the hands of the well accomplished sport shooter William McMillian, the High Standard 102 model would finally defeat the field of European pistols in the event that they had dominated for so long. The former U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel became the first and only American to win the rapid-fire event at the Olympics and finally gave High Standard the credibility they had been seeking against the best rapid fire pistols in the world.

The pistol that Mr. McMillian used was a Supermatic 102 Olympic ISU “Trophy” model. He finished with a score of 587 out of a possible 600. In the final stage of competition while firing at the 4 second targets he posted 147 out of a possible 150 to knock out the top Russian and Finnish shooters and bring home the gold medal. His High Standard pistol currently resides in the Olympic trophy case at the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia.