IT IS not just her proficiency with an air rifle that makes Jen McIntosh a persuasive force when it comes to the argument of a point.
Take her sport, for example, and whether it is a sport at all. This spurious debate is fuelled by the throwaway cynicism that still bemuses an athlete who won two gold medals and one bronze at the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi, helping her sport to contribute more medals (nine) than any other to the Scottish cause.
But if McIntosh, still a teenager in 2010, and her team had come back from Delhi empty-handed having only gone to make up the numbers, she would still defend shooting with an argument that stands up to any fair level of scrutiny.
Named yesterday as one of eight marksmen and women who have qualified to compete at the Barry Buddon barracks in Carnoustie – a distant outpost of Glasgow 2014, but an advisable venue of choice for Scottish medal-spotters – 22-year-old McIntosh admitted that she still finds herself having to work on shooting’s image problem, for all the gains that have been made.
“Oh, it makes me laugh when I hear people say it’s not a real sport. I say, ‘well come and try it then, we’ll see how you like it’,” she said. “I remember working with a new strength-and-conditioning coach a few years ago and he was a rugby player, and he was not really sure what to do with us to help our shooting. We kind of said, ‘well why not have a look at what we do, and then we can work together?’
“He got into the kneeling position, and he was saying ‘this is okay, I can work with this’, and we said, ‘okay, stay there for an hour’. He was like ‘oh God!’
“It’s an endurance sport, and I think people don’t really appreciate that. But it makes me laugh, more than anything, because it’s just ignorance. People don’t understand how hard it is.”
If at least some people have not gained a better understanding of shooting come next August something will have to have gone very wrong, because the home competitors are in very good shape to see the St Andrew’s Cross raised in their honour in Carnoustie on at least a couple of occasions.
McIntosh will fire the small bore rifle, 10-metre air rifle and 50m rifle 3P, headlining the Scots effort alongside West Virginia-based Jonathan Hammond, who will go for two golds of his own after a brace in Delhi.
Neil Stirton, Caroline Brownlie, Shona Marshall, Angus McLeod, Ian Shaw and Commonwealth Games debutante Sian Bruce were also named yesterday, as triathlete David McNamee took the overall team quota to 36. So far it consists of athletes, squash players, shooters and a triathlete, with the next draft due in the new year.
Glasgow 2014 will herald a new dawn for shooting after a rule change described by McIntosh as “highly controversial”. The new format for all International Shooting Sport Federation events sees all qualifying scores annulled before the athletes return for the final.
In the past, the best-placed qualifier always went into the final with an advantage and, as McIntosh acknowledged, the change adds a layer of unpredictability to the final round.
So how will shooting rank as a spectator sport to the uninitiated in nine months’ time?
“People either find it very boring or very, very exciting and nail-biting,” says the straight-talking McIntosh. The Edinburgh-born, Falkirk-bred competitor is happy to have seen shooting’s profile grow in recent years, even though Peter Wilson’s London 2012 double-trap heroics are more responsible for this than her own feats in Delhi. She is engaged to fellow marksman Andrew Ross and admitted his presence at an event is the only thing capable of distracting her. She doesn’t sound like somebody who will buckle under the expectation of a nation next summer. “It’s quite an eye-opener just to see the support of people getting behind the Scottish team. It is kind of scary because it’s more than letting yourself and your family down – there are more people to let down,” she said.
“At the same time, you can’t think about that, and I know that nobody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself. Scotland has always had a strong history in shooting and produced medallists, but we are now having lots more at the same time and we are getting away from the stereotype of older men. Look at the four people at the launch today – we are all young women.”