Martina shoots for the stars

Four years ago, in a dimly-lit Safra Yishun shooting range, the seeds of Singapore's latest shooting sensation were sown.

Martina Lindsay Veloso, then just 11, was a wide-eyed visitor with her family at the facility's open house.

She picked up a rifle and fired. The pellet whizzed past the target.

Undeterred, she tried again, this time with some coaching from an official in charge.

She zeroed in on the target and squeezed the trigger. Bull's eye.

She squeezed again. Bull's eye again.

Said Martina who turns 15 in October: "When I hit the bull's eye, I felt this excitement which I've never felt before. That was when I knew I wanted to pick up shooting."

The next step was convincing her parents to sign her up for the Learn to Shoot programme, a Singapore Sports School (SSP) initiative. They agreed, and so began her rapid rise to becoming one of the country's top shooters.

Last February, the SSP student became the first Singaporean to shoot a perfect score of 400 in her pet event, the women's 10m air rifle, beating Jasmine Ser's record of 399 set in 2008.

If doubters had thought that that was a fluke, they were silenced at the third leg of the ISSF World Cup in Munich last month.

Up against seasoned competitors like Czech 2008 Olympic champion Katerina Emmons, 30, and Serbia's 2010 European champion Andrea Arsovic, 27, Martina kept her cool and fired her way to a gold medal.

She is the competition's youngest winner. For that feat, she got the nod as The Straits Times' Star of the Month for June.

The award is an extension of ST's Athlete of the Year accolade which was launched in 2008. Both are backed by F&N's 100Plus.

Said The Straits Times assistant sports editor Chia Han Keong: "To be able to reproduce such a high-quality sporting performance in a high-pressure situation like the World Cup, is what makes a champion. And Martina fits the bill, even at the age of 14."

Much of her success can be attributed to her upbringing.

Engineer dad Melvin and housewife mum Loresa, tennis fans who named all their four children after the sport's stars - the others are Marat Lleyton, 11, Monica Louise, two, and six-month-old Michaella Lorraine - went to great lengths to ensure Martina got the best coaching.

When she took up taekwondo at age five, they signed her up for classes in Tampines despite living in Woodlands. The 40-minute bus rides meant her brother Marat, who suffers from motion sickness, had to be armed with a paper bag throughout.

They also wrote to SSP Shooting Academy general manager Koh Aik Beng when they feared Martina might not qualify for direct admission to the school, after finishing near the bottom in a shooting contest.

In return, all they ask for is for Martina to give her all in training - which she does.

Said her coach Lim Chea Rong: "The thing about Martina that sets her apart is her attitude. She knows what she wants, and will do everything to get it, which is rare for someone her age."

Martina, who leaves for the Commonwealth Games on Monday, credits her school, the Singapore Shooting Association and her family for her success.

She added: "I dream of standing on the top step of the prize podium and singing 'Majulah Singapura' all the time. To the Singaporeans rooting for me, I look forward to your support and I will do my very best for Singapore."

This article was first published on July 12, 2014.
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