Chinese sharpshooter Du Li, first gold taker at the Athens Olympics and former world record holder, reminds herself all the time that she is at the same starting line in Beijing with all strong rivals, just like four years ago.
"Skills of foreign shooters are improving fast. In comparison, we have little advantage," said worried Wang Yifu, the head coach of China's national shooting team.
The 26-year-old Du, who renewed the world record of women's 10-meter air rifle in 2003 just one year after she entered the national team, and further impressed the world the next year to be crowned at the Athens Olympic Games, bores the expectation of millions of Chinese to win the first Olympic gold on home soil.
However, the girl from China's eastern Shandong Province didn't seem to be in good shape.
During the three World Cups this year, Du only pocketed one gold medal in women's 50-meter rifle three positions rather than her major competing discipline of 10-meter air rifle. Her second best result was a fourth.
At the Good Luck Beijing ISSF World Cup this April, her world record of 504.9 points, was equaled by Czech markswoman Katerina Emmons. Two months later at the Milan fort of World Cup, German left-hand shooter Sonja Pfeilschifter improved the record by 0.1 point.
"Pfeilschifter is better than anybody else, including Du," admitted Wang Yifu. The German was also world record holder of women's 50-meter rifle three positions.
"We can't count on others' lapse for a gold medal," Wang added. "Du's problem was in the qualification round."
Although she managed to edge into the final in latest competitions, Du was ranked behind the third, especially at the Munich fort, when she stood eighth among all finalists. Although she performed well in the final, it was hard to catch up with a huge starting disadvantage.
The so-called home advantage at the upcoming Games further may change into disadvantage for Du to defend her title, as the words or applauses of spectators might add burden to a shooter, for whom psychological stability is more important.
Despite the difficulties, Du is eager for a good result.
"Maybe this is the only chance for me to compete in the Olympic Games hosted by my own country," Du said.
Besides the women's 10-meter air rifle, the girl with beaming smile also longs for a breakthrough in the women's 50-meter rifle three positions.
Du won her first gold in this discipline at the Good Luck Beijing ISSF World Cup, beating Pfeilschifter. Wang Yifu said that he never anticipated such a result.
In fact, the Olympic Games were full of miracles, just as four years ago, when Du surpassed her arch-rival, famous Russian shooter Lioubov Galkina, only after the last shot in the final.
In the Olympic arena which is full of suspense, no one can make judgement on whether Du will come with another miracle or not.
(Xinhua News Agency July 15, 2008)