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All-conquering sharpshooter Yang still has medals in sights

Updated: 2022-10-12 09:22
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Yang Haoran is aiming to compete at his third Olympic Games in Paris in two years' time. [Photo/Xinhua]

When Yang Haoran got a video call from his worried mother telling him his cat had broken his World Cup final trophy, the news was "no big deal". "I have another one anyway," the all-conquering shooter calmly reasoned.

From Olympic gold to the world championships to the World Cup, Yang has won it all.

Now the Grand Slam winner is heading for his third worlds in Cairo after excelling in the national trials.

"My primary goal is to earn a quota place for China," Yang said ahead of the tournament, which is one of the qualifiers for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

"Of course I set my eyes on the championships, but more importantly I hope to challenge myself and learn from the experience, as chances of participating in major competitions have been rare since the pandemic."

The International Shooting Sport Federation has implemented a new format for the worlds that presents fresh challenges for athletes, maybe more so for veteran shooters.

"There will be more uncertainties under the new rules, as both athletes start from zero in the medal match. And you need to improve your stamina because there are more shots compared to the rules in the previous cycle," explained Yang, who won't compete in 50m rifle three positions to instead focus on air rifle.

"Also, the match schedule is tighter, which makes it tiring and distracting for athletes to compete in multiple events," Yang said. "An all-rounder can be a master of none."

To adapt to the changes, Yang has sped up his shooting rate under the advice of his new coach, former Olympic champion Du Li.

"He was already an Olympic champion, and I was worried I might not be able to get the best out of him or we might have communication problems," the 40-year-old Du confessed of her initial hesitation when she was assigned to coach Yang at the end of last year.

However, Du's concerns proved to be entirely unfounded.

"Regardless of experience, no athlete can train alone without a coach, who can provide an objective view when problems fog your mind.

"We used to spend years training together and we know each other well. She was a top-level athlete, so she understands what I feel and knows the technical issues I'm dealing with. We have perfect communication," Yang said of his former teammate who retired after the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Twists and turns

Yang first hit the shooting range in 2008, and turned professional in 2010 to embark on his journey to the national team. He won gold at the Asian Championships in 2012 on his international debut at the age of 16.

Over the next two years he triumphed at almost every major competition he featured in. Recalling those halcyon days, Yang said it felt "surreal".

"It's like you attend fewer classes than others but get the best marks in every exam. You just choose 'C' for any question you are unsure of, and all of them turn out to be correct. That definitely makes you feel surreal," he explained.

In Rio, Yang's super-smooth progress suddenly hit a bump in the road. He finished only 31st in the 10m air rifle qualification with 620.5 points as the hot favorite missed out on the final.

Looking back on his Olympic debut, Yang said he was grateful for that disappointing experience.

"If I didn't fall down and had won a gold medal back then, I would not be who I am now," he said.

He confessed that he was occasionally struck by flashbacks from his Rio nightmare when he was in Tokyo for his second Olympic Games. At that stage, though, he was mature enough to push those memories to the back of his mind.

"I think Tokyo was my best performance, both in individual and mixed team events — not in terms of points, but how I was able to utilize my full capabilities honed down through the years to cope with the pressure," he said.

"It was fair to say I surpassed myself," added Yang, who did not make a single sub-10 shot during the entire Tokyo Olympics.

After winning the mixed team gold with Yang Qian, Yang Haoran was finally a Grand Slam winner — what he was expected to achieve five years previously in Rio.

Having been the youngest in the rifle squad when first called up, this time he was the eldest and the team captain.

But he still longs for more. He let fans know he wants to win an individual Olympic gold by adding "TBC" after his name on his Weibo account following the Tokyo Games.

"I still want to give it a try," said Yang Haoran. "Whether it's 10m air rifle individual, or mixed team, or 50m rifle three positions, I hope I can compete in all three events in Paris as long as it's possible."

Paris 2024 is high on Yang's agenda, but his short-term target is next year's Asian Games in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

"As for my long-term goal, it is to compete for as long as possible because I still love this sport," he said. "I continue my career because of my passion for shooting. Surely I have goals, but they are more like steering a direction. At the end of the day, it's all about my love for the sport."

Off the shooting range, Yang is an avid reader. His favorite author is Haruki Murakami and he is also a fan of Keigo Higashino's mystery novels. Classics like The Catcher in the Rye and The Moon and Sixpence are on his shelves, together with three volumes of A Hypnotist's Notes, the renowned Chinese series on psychology.

But what influenced him most was a book entitled Standing on the Edge of Two Worlds. The author, Chen Hao, could barely move his body since birth and was diagnosed to live no longer than 5 years old. He passed away at the age of 20 and his mother compiled his writings, including prose, novels and letters, into a book.

"I was 19 when I read the book, and I was totally overwhelmed," Yang recalled, adding that he also enjoyed Temple of Earth and I by novelist Shi Tiesheng, who was paralyzed from a young age.

"I don't like biographies of celebrities. Their words count because they have already succeeded," Yang explained. "I prefer to read stories of those who are doomed to fail, but try hard to enjoy their lives with love for this world."


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