THERE are benefits to having your dad as one of your coaches, according to Scottish shooter Jen McIntosh.
“The fact is he knows better than anyone how to motivate me,” she says. Apparently, these days, that usually involves simple sibling rivalry.
McIntosh became Scotland’s most successful female athlete in a single Games when she won two gold and one bronze medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Still a teenager at the time, she was following in the footsteps of her parents. Mum Shirley had competed in the Commonwealth Games in Victoria in 1994 and Kuala Lumpur in 1998, and has a gold, a silver and two bronze medals to show for it, while dad Donald took part in the 2002 Games in Manchester and is now head rifle coach for British Shooting.
While two of the events in which McIntosh won medals in Delhi (the Prone Pairs and the 3x20 Pairs) have been erased from the competition schedule, she has always been focused on retaining her individual Prone title, while also gunning for individual success in the 3x20 event and, hopefully, bolstering her medal tally in the air rifle category. The drive was there but these days there is added incentive. It is provided by her 17-year-old sister Seonaid, a relative newcomer to the sport but one who is developing fast.
“I came on in the sport very quickly, a lot quicker than a lot of my peers,” says McIntosh, “and if you were to plot a graph of my improvement mine was much steeper and I wondered if who my parents are had something to do with that and now that my sister has started shooting, she is very similar and, like me, her rate of improvement is also pretty steep. It does make me wonder if that is down to the way we were raised. We were taught to make sure we always gave everything to anything we did, didn’t back down, always worked our way through everything, and there will be things we have learned from our parents, for example real tenacity and a determination to work for every single point.”
Three driven McIntosh women all taking aim can be quite scary, especially when they are up against each other. Last year they were all in action in the Scottish Championships but it wasn’t either of the Commonwealth champions who came out on top.
“Oh, we are super competitive! It’s terrifying at times,” says McIntosh. “Mum doesn’t really care too much any more because she is not really training, she’s just doing it for fun, but she still laughs if she beats us. But, god, Seonaid and I are really competitive. It can be quite nasty sometimes,” she admits with an embarrassed giggle.
“Seonaid beat me at the Scottish championships last year, in the Prone, but that was basically because it wasn’t an Olympic event so I hadn’t been training to shoot in a Prone match. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. But I had a nightmare that day and shot 20 points below what I should have been shooting while, to be fair to Seonaid, it was her first ever match and she absolutely blew all the other juniors out the water and shot phenomenally well. I would have been happy for her but, of course, that meant she also beat me by about five points and she came off all smug saying ‘Look what I’ve just shot, I beat you’ and I was thinking ‘Really? That is so unnecessary!’
“But when I beat her at the Scottish Air Gun Championships this year that was simply what was expected because I had been to the Olympics in that event whereas she was shooting in only her fourth or fifth match, so I couldn’t even get my revenge and rub it in, I just had to be quiet, which was difficult. But I was pleased.”
Originally from Edinburgh but schooled in the Central Belt, McIntosh, who turns 22 tomorrow, is now based in Aberdeen, where she can train daily at the country’s best facilities. Her form is not yet where she wanted it to be due to an extended break after the 2012 Olympics but she is still focusing on success next summer and her dad knows exactly how to get the best from her. “Yeah, he’ll just drop a wee ‘oh did you hear Seonaid shot a such and such the other day’ and that’s usually enough.” Seonaid is also knocking on the door of the Scotland fast-track squad and could get in when the next announcement is made towards the end of the year, which would see the sisters training together more often. Given their competitiveness it may not be a bad thing.
The shooting will be distanced from most of the other Commonwealth events next year. The majority of events will be staged in and around Glasgow, but McIntosh and Co will be in a satellite village, and the shooting will be hosted by the Ministry of Defence training facility at Barry Buddon near Carnoustie.
“It is disappointing that we are separated from the others but I just need to try to find positives and one is the fact that at least I know the range well,” says McIntosh. It was a venue she used while she was a pupil at Dollar Academy. “So at least it is home turf and hopefully we can move back to the main village once our events are finished because that was such a big part of the enjoyment in Delhi.”
Memories of Delhi, quite rightly, bring a smile to McIntosh’s face. Describing it as surreal for the most part, it’s not just the emotion of the medal ceremonies and the intensity of competition that she remembers, it is the feat of somehow managing to string Saltire bunting between accommodation blocks after the shooters were move into an overspill area next door and the decoration devilment of splattering Team Scotland stickers and other promotional material through the empty rooms which were eventually to be occupied by the Northern Ireland team.
The serious business, though, has always been medals. McIntosh says she is competitive in all three of her disciplines and is capable of medals in all three, even a flush of golds if things go her way, but she is not too stressed by it all. In a life dominated by shooting, there are some welcome distractions.
At Edinburgh Castle for the 21-gun salute to honour the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday last week, she was able to combine the trip with meeting her wedding planner. Her boyfriend Andrew Ross proposed to her at the castle in October last year and they will be married there in December 2014, which means she is organising a wedding while also plotting further Commonwealth success.
“Yeah, even the wedding planner said we don’t do things by half! But I’m a really girly girl. I love make-up and shoes and like to do my hair and I love fashion, so I’m looking forward to that side of things. I don’t think anyone has described me as a tomboy since I was 14! And the wedding gives me something else to think about so it’s not all about shooting.”
Having failed to find the perfect dress, she is swaying towards designing her own. There were a lot she liked but none was exactly what she is looking for and it is that attention to detail, that demand for perfection, that sets her apart in shooting. Well, that and her ongoing desire to be better than her wee sister.