China's Zhao Zhonghao finished third in the men's 50m 3-position competition at the ISSF World Cup Rifle/Pistol Beijing at the Olympic shooting range in the capital on Wednesday. The result secured Zhao's spot on the team for next year's Tokyo Olympics. ZHANG WEI/CHINA DAILY
Zhao Zhonghao was shooting in Beijing, but aiming at Tokyo.
Specifically, next year's Summer Olympics.
Surrounded by a raucous crowd clapping to pop music at the suburban Beijing Shooting Range, Zhao was rock steady during Wednesday's final of the men's 50m 3-position, squeezing off his 44th shot as coolly as he did his first.
His total score of 445.1 points brought Zhao the bronze medal in his first World Cup final appearance. Filip Nepejchal of the Czech Republic tied the world junior record of 458.7 points to claim gold, while Russia's Sergey Kamenskiy won silver with 458.1.
Zhao, who debuted on the international scene in 2013, said that getting so close to the gold was a bit unnerving.
"That is the tiny but critical difference between world elite shooters and Olympic champions," he said after securing a second Olympic quota for China.
"The mental toughness of holding back all the noise in your head, knowing you have that chance, is true marksmanship. I still have to continue challenging myself to be there."
Zhao's narrow miss reflected the cruel nature of the accuracy competition that has shattered the Olympic dreams of some of the world's best shooters at previous Games.
Carrying high hopes of getting China off to a golden start at the 2016 Rio Games, female rifle shooter Yi Siling, once the world's most dominant force at 10m, was knocked out before the final two-bullet round by eventual champion Virginia Thrasher of the United States and veteran teammate Du Li.
Yi's weeping in the post-final mixed zone was as emotional as her tears of joy four years earlier after she won the event at the 2012 London Olympics.
"It takes setbacks time and time again until a shooter becomes mature enough to be able to keep both hand and head steady enough to deliver at the Olympics," said national team men's rifle coach Li Jie.
"Most of our shooters are too young to always stay composed at international events, although they've been tested domestically."
Joining Zhao on China's potential Tokyo roster could be world champion rifle shooter Yang Haoran (23), world junior champion Liu Yukun (22) and veteran pistol specialist Pang Wei (33), who won the men's 10m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"The men's team should keep their feet on the ground aiming at Tokyo. We have a deep-talented contingent in the top echelon of the sport, but it will take long hours in training, along with courage and a little bit of luck to hit our mark in Tokyo," said Li.
Since its Summer Olympics debut in 1984, China has shot down 22 gold medals.
Some Olympic champions, such as Zhu Qinan, gold medalist in men's 10m rifle (2004) and Wang Yifu, two-time winner in men's 10m pistol (1992 and 2004), have transitioned to coaching and managing today's young guns.
"Passing experience and expertise from the seniors to the youngsters is a great asset in our team. It's the secret of the long-lasting international prowess of Chinese shooting," said national team manger Wang Lian.