Nervous shooters miss the target

Nervous shooters miss the target

INCHEON, South Korea - Competitive pistol shooters are everything cowboys are not. They don't wear stetsons, have excruciatingly slow draws and often keep their non-firing hand hidden in their pockets. Presumably because, in this uniquely fretful sport, it is shaking.

The problem with Singapore's Nigel Lim yesterday was that at a decisive time of his 50m pistol final it was his firing hand which was shaking.

"I was very, very nervous," said the earnest sports school teacher, who probably insists his pupils never lie. He finished 6th and together with team-mates Poh Lip Meng and Gai Bin took Singapore to 5th as a team.

Nervousness for Lim was understandable. Even inevitable. His form, he said, had been patchy. His practice sessions had been curtailed by work commitments and reduced from three or four sessions a week to two.

If you're not prepared perfectly, you tend to over-think. If you're surrounded, as he was, by one shooter with two Olympics golds and another who owned world championship gold, you might get the shakes.

Yet all day till then Lim had been a creature of true grit. In the 60-shot qualification, he was flailing at the end with a streak of 9, 8, 9, 9, 8, 9, 9 but ended firmly with a 10.

In the final, in his 9th shot, he lurched with a 7.3, then responded bravely with a 10.3. At one point, with two shooters eliminated, he was third out of the remaining six.

And then, as often happens, history was followed by heartbreak.

He'd had a personal best qualifying score of 559/600; he'd made a first appearance in an Asian Games final. He'd broken new ground. Then he fell apart.

His 11th shot was a 4.4.

Even his fellow shooter, Poh, sitting beside me, flinched. There is no polite way of saying this: It was disastrous.

It kicked the life out of Lim's challenge, it eliminated him, and later he confessed: "I lost focus with that shot." He said he "needed to be brave and decisive" which is shooter-talk for not waiting too long on the trigger. Instead he "rushed" a bit.

And in the ugly bark of an imprecise pistol, a genial man's beautiful chance had flown.

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