Olympics: Coach's notebook to help Ser pinpoint her technical errors

Jasmine Ser preparing to shoot during the women's 10m air rifle event yesterday. She finished 25th out of 51 competitors with a score of 413.5, but said, "I'm OK" while shifting her focus to the 50m three-position event.
Jasmine Ser preparing to shoot during the women's 10m air rifle event yesterday. She finished 25th out of 51 competitors with a score of 413.5, but said, "I'm OK" while shifting her focus to the 50m three-position event.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The shooter can't be calm, she can't be still. It's Friday night and she needs rest but sleep won't come. Of course, it doesn't. This is Rio, this is the Olympics, this is pressure, this is normal. This is why Jasmine Ser goes to bed at 9pm on Friday and gets up once, twice, thrice, "rehearsing" what she has to do in her mind, thinking to herself, "tomorrow is the competition".

On Saturday finally she rises at 5am; on Saturday her coach Kirill Ivanov will say: "This is stress." And stress is what you fight at a Games. Stress is the test. Stress is being flawless over 40 shots.

Ser will shoot 10.6 and above - a perfect shot is 10.9 - 15 times while aiming at a 0.5mm dot from 10 metres in a range where everyone's talking. In practice she was shooting these deep 10s and to replicate them in competition, under stress, is impressive. But it's not enough. This is the Olympics, nothing but perfection is enough.

Ser finishes 25th (she was 24th in London) out of 51 competitors, with a score of 413.5, but these days the 50m three-position is her preferred event. This was a "warm-up", like getting her nerves used to the particular tension of an Olympics.

The Singaporean, whose life centres around 10s, stands at position No. 10. It's not an omen. There are 50 other women, all in heavy and unsightly shooting jackets and trousers, unmoving as if Superglued to the ground, standing in a line as if auditioning for sniper school. They can all hit a dangling earring from 33 feet while yawning.

The range is roughly 30 minutes from the Main Press Centre, over hills, through tunnels, past an armoured carrier. There are soldiers everywhere but no one in this town, or the world, shoots better than those inside this nondescript range. This isn't a spectator sport, for every emotion is tightly leashed. This is, in fact, the standing-still competition of the world.

In roughly 45 minutes, 43 women will go home. But for those 45 minutes every shooter will try and turn into an instrument of precision. If rifles are removed from cases and their parts perfectly fitted together, then it's same with shooters who must collect their best bits, their aim, focus, breathing, balance, calm, and then assemble their greatness.

Ser, talented, driven, thoughtful, almost does. But almost won't do. Not at the Olympics.

"I haven't felt like this since London 2012," confesses the Singaporean who has shot at most major events. "It's how your brain works. You're shooting with the best. It's a privilege to be with these shooters and I had some good shots but I also had some mistakes which I have to accept."

She has the odd 9.9 and 9.7 and 9.6, missing by millimetres, missing by an eyelash. "They were technical errors," she says. "I wasn't at the most optimal point of balance." If her leg twitched, that meant a 9.7. Her coach Ivanov, his notebook full of sketched diagrams, explains it as "not enough perfect muscle control". And imperfect means a 9.9. The margins in shooting, please understand, would challenge the sanity of even a meditative yogi.

Ser's first series of 10 shots is 102.6, her second 103.9, her third 102.8, her fourth 104.2. The first series is not a fine start, the last is a powerful finish. Her final 13 shots will all be above 10 and if she was nervous at the start, she will finish with purpose and poise. She has shown character and she will not leave this Olympics with nothing.

Later, Ser is calm, collected and even tries to reassure the media. "I'm OK," she smiles. Overreaction doesn't fit shooters, maturity does. She doesn't think of "what ifs", of 9.9s which could have been 10.6s, because sport doesn't allow you to rewind a shot. Athletes learn to let go, they move ahead, they wear experience, they keep working. "You can't be satisfied," said Ivanov.

As Ser left the mixed zone, Ivanov was probably waiting for her inside, ready with his notebook, ready to dissect her performance. Was she going to rest? Pack away her guns for the day? Nope. "I'm going to see if I can train for the 50m," she said.

This is the Olympics. Sleep will just have to wait.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'Coach's notebook to help Ser pinpoint her technical errors'. Print Edition | Subscribe