Young shooter aims for Tokyo 2020 after a slump
In the basement of Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK) in central Seoul, there’s a shooting range where Im is currently training to earn her spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The 10-meter air rifle was added to the Olympics since 1984, and in this event, shooters take their shots at 10 meters (33 feet) from a standing position to hit the 0.5-millimeter (0.02-inch) target. Out of a maximum score of 10.9, normally, a shooter needs to average 10.42 or above, after the 60 shots, to advance to the finals. The top 8 shooters qualify onto the final.
Out of a maximum score of 654 over 60 shots, Im’s highest score was 634.
Im first started the sport during her first year in middle school, as an after-school activity. Then in her third year in middle school, she earned her spot onto the national team for the first time. She quickly proved to be a prodigy, and in September 2018, when she was in her third year at Cheongju Girls’ High School, she picked up a gold in women’s 10-meter air rifle and the team event at the 2018 International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Championship in Changwon, South Gyeongsang.
“I think I inherited [shooting skills] from my dad, who is a sergeant major at a military base in North Chungcheong,” Im said. “When I was a student, I went to a shooting range with my dad, and we competed against each other and our skills were neck and neck. My younger sister also competes in the same event.”
Back when Im won gold at the 2018 World Championship in Changwon, she was wearing glasses but now, she got rid of her glasses as she got lasik surgery.
“The glasses were uncomfortable,” Im said. “Since my teammate seemed to be adjusting well after the surgery, I talked to my parents and decided to get the surgery. In rifle, I have to put the rifle on my face when I aim. Due to this, there might be a slight difference in my direction from shaking.”
Currently, Im is not on the national team, as she failed to win any of the national or international events. Im referred to last year as her slump. Although there wasn’t much action by Im throughout the 2019 season, she was still seen as a likely candidate to win gold in women’s10-meter rifle at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by data websites like Gracenote and Olympicmedalspredictions.com.
“It was the longest slump in my shooting career,” Im said. “My mental game is considered weak, but since people had too many expectations of me, I started to pressure myself, and that vicious circle repeated.”
At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Korea earned two quotas for women’s 10-meter air rifle. There will be a total of five qualifiers over April and May to select the two shooters for the Olympics. The top two shooters after the five qualifiers will represent Korea.
Im will have to compete against Korea’s Keum Ji-hyeon and Jung Eun-hea. Both Keum and Jung competed at the 2018 Asian Games, and Jung won silver in women’s 10-meter air rifle.
In addition to the 10-meter air rifle, Im is also training to compete at the national qualifier for women’s rifle three positions. Due to this, Im is currently training at both Euljiro in central Seoul and Taereung northern Seoul.
In November 2019, Im competed at the 14th Asian Shooting Championship in Doha, Qatar, and finished fourth in 50-meter-rifle-3-position event in the women junior category. At the time, national team coach Yeo Gap-sun worked with Im to boost her confidence, which was considered her weakness.
Yeo is a legendary in Korean women’s shooting as she won gold in women’s 10-meter air rifle at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Following Yeo, Kang Cho-hyun won a silver in the same event at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, but since then, Korea didn’t see a medal in women’s 10-meter rifle.
“Two years ago, when I won the world championship, coach Yeo ran up to me and gave me a hug,” Im said. “She said she felt happier than I was. I also trained at Kang Cho-hyun shooting range before. During the national team qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympics, I failed to qualify because I was too scared. At this qualifier, I’ll just enjoy thinking that even if I shoot nine points in one round, I can shoot 10.9 points in the next round.”
BY PARK RIN, KANG YOO-RIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]