YOU don’t get queues at shooting venues. You don’t get packed stands, cheers for every bullseye, and sustained applause at the end of competition. Not normally anyway.
But these are the Olympic Games, and this was a crowd who turned up at the Royal Artillery Barracks yesterday still in a euphoric state after the previous evening’s spectacular opening ceremony. So they did things a little differently from usual.
The scale of the support took Jen McIntosh aback at first, but she soon warmed to it, and began to respond with a grateful nod of recognition to particularly warm bursts of applause. She took a bow at the end as well, perhaps a touch apologetically, after failing to qualify for the final of the women’s 10-metre air rifle competition, but in reality she had nothing to be sorry for.
We may expect a lot from the 21-year-old as a result of her two gold medals at the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi, but the standard here is far tougher. The Scot’s world ranking of 52nd gives a good indication of just how tough, and her final placing of 36th shows that she rose to the challenge of being Team GB’s representative in the first event of the Games at which medals were awarded.
Or perhaps the actual scores are a better indication of the standard of competition. Qualification for the final took place over four rounds, each of ten shots. Every shot could count for up to ten points, so the maximum possible total was 400.
McIntosh scored 392, failing to hit the bull just a handful of times, yet still came nowhere close to the medals. The top two qualifiers for the final, eventual champion Yi Siling of China and silver medallist Sylwia Bogacka of Poland, both scored 399 – just one point shy of perfection.
After the eight top shooters had shot the final round of ten shots, Siling, right, emerged as victor with a total of 502.9 – just 0.7 more than her Polish rival, to win the first gold medal of the London 2012 Games. Another Chinese, Yu Dan, took bronze with 501.5.
McIntosh will have another go at overturning the odds next Saturday, when she competes in the 50m rifle three positions. That means she has time for a rest, to fit in some training, and to return to earth after what was clearly an exhilarating experience.
“The first time I heard the cheers, I thought: Are those cheers for me?” she said. “‘Are they going to cheer every one of my shots?’ And they did.
“That was pretty incredible. The crowd were absolutely fantastic. We’re not used to that in shooting. The support was incredible and I just want to thank everybody for coming along today. That was mindblowing. It took a bit of time to get used to the crowd, but after that I found it really helped: it gave me something to laugh and smile about, which helps deal with the nerves. Once I realised that was how great the support was, I got into it.
“It’s just so much bigger than Delhi, isn’t it? It’s like Delhi, but times ten. The support of the home crowd has been incredible. I didn’t have people cheering for me every shot in Delhi. That’s not normal. But it was fantastic, amazing.
“I pretty much gave it my all, so I can’t ask any more than that. I would have liked to be in the final, but hey, it’s my first Olympics. I’ve got a week now before my next event, so a week to go back and try and come down and climb off this cloud nine that I’m on just now. I’ll definitely come and see how the male rifle shooters get on, and I’ll get some training in as well.”
Besides being the first medal event of the 2012 Games, the 10m air rifle was historic in other ways too. As IOC President Jacques Rogge announced with pride at the Opening Ceremony, these are the first Olympics at which every country has women in its team.
Qatar is one of three countries including female competitors for the first time – Brunei and Saudi Arabia being the others – which made Bahya Mansour Al Hamad the first Qatari woman to be an Olympian.
“I’m so proud to be here,” she said after coming 17th. “It’s a dream come true. I’m so happy.”
Then there was Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi, who finished just ahead of McIntosh in 34th, and set a new record – most pregnant Olympian. The 29-year-old Malaysian is due to give birth to her first child, a daughter, in mid-September, and argued that her condition did not make competing too difficult.
“Maybe three to four times only,” she said when asked if the baby kicked while she was taking those 40 shots. “When she kick I just breathe in and breathe out then continue.
“I said ‘Behave yourself. Be calm. Don’t move so much’. She always listens to me. I’m lucky.”
She plans to call her daughter Dayana Widyan, and is already looking forward to “reminding” her of her Olympic heritage.
“I will say she is very lucky, because she’s not been born yet but she has already competed in the Olympics,” said Taibi.