TOKYO - The competition clock is ticking at the Asaka Shooting Range, but Adele Tan is waiting. Qualification has begun but she is not ready to shoot.
Seconds tick. A minute passes. Air rifles fire around her. But she will not be hurried, she will not be rushed.
“Yeah,” she says later after her day is done, “I took a long time (for the first shot). Because at the start I felt that I needed more time to calm myself.”
Tan did that well enough to finish 21st out of 50 in the 10m air rifle qualification on Saturday (July 24) morning – only the top eight get to the final – which is the best finish by a Singapore Olympic shooter in this event. Each of 60 shots has a maximum score of 10.9 and Tan finished with 625.3 which is an average of 10.4 per shot.
It is not her best score but it is a fine score for a first Games.
“I have to be very honest,” she said later in her usual intense manner, “and say that this is probably the toughest qualification that I had to battle. When I first started it was very nerve-wracking but I felt that emotionally I did whatever I could.
“My ranking I know is 21. Although I hope for better, but I feel that overall I’m quite satisfied with how I controlled myself emotionally. And I think that’s the most important thing because I know that throughout this whole process that I have not only matured as a shooter but as a person."
Shooters do not swear, spit, shout or pump fists. They show nothing and yet they use words like battle because of what is going on inside. They are one metre or so away from the next person but on their own, private planet.
“It was a battle,” said Tan, “in a sense that everyone here is world class. And anyone can make it to the final. So I think everyone is really fighting very hard emotionally because at the Olympics it is not so much about technical skills any more. And so even for me, so I know that technically it’s okay. But emotionally, I had to really conquer a lot of inner demons.
“And I felt that today, actually looking back I’m quite satisfied with how I carried myself. Although, of course, there is still room for improvement.”
The tension in the hall of 50 shooters is thick. Using a 5.5kg rifle, from a distance of 10m, shooters fire at a target whose centre ring is 0.5mm. This is the perfection they flirt with all day. They aim, do not shoot, put down their rifle, start again. They pause, breathe, wait. Here, 10.0 for a shot, as an Olympic champion told me, is a score that “sucks”.
Tan did well by taking her time. She started with a low 9.9 and after her third shot she went to talk to her coach.
“I had difficulty in terms of my breathing control. And I looked at my coach because I think probably he noticed my shot routine was a little bit off. So I looked at my coach and I knew that I had to get out. So I got out, I spoke to him, and when I went back I knew that I had to focus on certain things, not the outcome.”
The chat paid off. Instead of trying to hunt for perfection which can be stressful, Tan calmed down and the 9.9 was followed by scores of 10.6, 10.1, 10,7, 10.7, 10.2 and 10.7. She was on her way.
Many weeks ago when I interviewed Tan she said her only goal in Tokyo was to withstand the high pressure. On Saturday I asked if she had succeeded.
“Yes,’ she said firmly. “In terms of managing the pressure. This is the highest pressure that I had to face so far. And I did everything that I could. I really did everything I could emotionally.”
She did not get to the final, but she won a vital battle.