|Wang Luyao's eighth-place finish was China's best result at the ISSF World Cup at the Olympic shooting range in Beijing on Tuesday. Yulia Karimova from Russia took top honors, followed by Kwon Eun-ji and Keum Ji-hyeon from the Republic of Korea. [Xinhua]
China's young shooters bidding to toughen up for Tokyo 2020
With the 2020 Olympics just 15 months away, China's young guns are aiming to hit the lofty mental standards required to succeed in the nerve-shredding sport.
With the women's 10m air rifle traditionally the opening event at the Games, steely nerves are an essential requirement for shooters looking for a golden start.
Having won the opening gold at Athens 2004 and London 2012, the Chinese team is honing a contingent of young female shooters with a series of tough tests, tutelage from previous champions and increased exposure to top international competition.
"It's a test of mettle that requires more in mental stability and concentration than just marksmanship," team manager Wang Lian told China Daily at the ongoing International Shooting Sport Federation's World Cup series in western Beijing on Wednesday.
"We have built strength in this discipline, but it's always up to whether athletes can hold their nerve under pressure and pull the trigger as calmly as they did in training.
"It's a big challenge for our young team but we believe we have the right system in place to mature through continuous tests leading up to Tokyo."
Tuesday's women's 10m air rifle at the World Cup competition exposed China's shortcomings.
Wang Luyao was the best-placed of the three homegrown shooters, finishing eighth with 122.3 points. Russia's Yulia Karimova won gold with 251.1 points ahead of Kwon Eun-ji (250.2) and Keum Ji-hyeon (228.0) from the Republic of Korea in front of an enthusiastic crowd that clapped along to pop music.
The ISSF introduced the music-enhanced final format at the 2016 Rio Olympics in a bid to shed the sport's staid image and better engage spectators.
"It was way more intense than I expected," said 21-year-old Wang, who is ranked 19th in the discipline.
"To compete at an international event is more stressful than shooting domestically, no matter how hard you've tried to simulate the final situations during training."
China currently has four women ranked in the world's top 10 in 10m rifle, led by 2018 Asian Games champion Zhao Ruozhu, 21, at No 5. But none of them advanced through the domestic trials for this Cup event.
All of China's five top-20 shooters only began competing in the World Cup series and at the adult world championships last year.
With a handful of talented youngsters coming up through the ranks, national team coach Du Li said it's an urgent task to toughen them mentally.
"We've been testing each of them individually, but so far they still need more grind internationally to be able to live up to the standards required to carry out the mission," said Du.
Two-time Olympic champion Du knows exactly how tough it is to succeed at the top of the sport.
She won gold in the 50m 3-position event at the 2008 Beijing Games but failed to retain her 10m rifle title in front of the home fans.
She retired after claiming silver in the 10m rifle and bronze in the 50m 3-position at the 2016 Rio Games.
"The boldness of the young athletes sometimes can be an advantage as they shoot without hesitation, but their lack of experience can catch them out in tense situations," she said.
"We will continue challenging them in stressful situations in training at home and testing them at the Cup events.
"Hopefully, one of them will emerge as reliable enough."
The Beijing World Cup, the series' second leg this year, runs through Sunday with 2020 Olympics places up for grabs in men's and women's rifle and pistol disciplines.
Two more Cup events will be held in Germany next month and in Brazil in August before the tour finale in Putian, Fujian province, in November.
With a series of podium finishes since last year's world championships in South Korea, China's shooting team has already secured 15 Olympic entries in the men's and women's rifle and pistol events.
(Source: China Daily)