Shooting stars hit the target

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China has long been a powerhouse in the women's air rifle, with the national shooting team producing a succession of Olympic champions in the event — Du Li at Athens 2004, Yi Siling at London 2012, and Yang Qian two years ago in Tokyo.

From left: Team China shooters Han Jiayu, Huang Yuting and Wang Zhilin pose with their gold medals on Sunday. [Photo/Xinhua]

In the lead-up to the Paris Olympics, a new wave of young Chinese sharpshooters have their sights set on glory. All born in the 2000s, they showcased their prowess at the Asian Games on Sunday, claiming two gold medals on the first day of the shooting competitions at Fuyang Yinhu Sports Centre.

With an average age of 19, the trio of Huang Yuting, Han Jiayu and Wang Zhilin clinched gold in the 10-meter air rifle women's team event with an Asian-record score of 1,896.6 points.

During the qualification round, Han set an individual Asian record with 634.1 points.

Just two hours after securing the team title, Huang and Han delivered a Chinese 1-2 in the women's 10m air rifle individual event, bagging gold and silver respectively.

"I feel happy about my performance, as it shows my training paid off," Huang told a news conference after her medal-laden day.

Her triumph was all the more impressive considering she wasn't able to tell how her opponents were doing because the live announcements were in English.

Rather than bothering her, she said this just made her more determined.

"I just focused entirely on what I had to do. I shot well and showed my strength," she said.

Huang admitted she had been concerned about her inconsistent performances in the build-up to the Games, but managed to compose herself when it mattered most on Sunday. In between each shot, she revealed, she simply told herself to pull the trigger decisively.

A prodigious talent, Huang earned her first national team call-up in 2021. A year later, she made her world championships debut, winning two gold and one silver medals and securing China a spot at the Paris Olympics in the process.

She only turned 17 earlier this month, and has practiced shooting for seven years. Her younger sister is attempting to follow in her footsteps on the shooting range.

Huang's parents rent an apartment near her sports school to allow her to dedicate herself to training.

Lin Kehan, who spotted Huang's potential at elementary school, said her excellent coordination and stability singled her out as a special talent.

She allies those physical attributes to an unwavering mental focus. The moment she holds a rifle, it's as if the outside world fades away for her, Lin says.

Born in 2001, Han is another rising star of the Chinese team. She pocketed 10m air rifle gold in her debut at the world championships in Baku, Azerbaijan last month to earn China an Olympic berth for next year's Paris Games.

"I was nervous and happy. I hope to continue competing for our country," Han said after her victory at the worlds.

Nineteen-year-old Wang Zhilin has also delivered impressive results early in her career, producing a major upset when she defeated reigning Olympic champion Yang Qian to claim 10m air rifle gold at the 2021 National Games in Xi'an, Shaanxi province.

The trio all hail from Zhejiang province and say they feel happy and proud to triumph on home turf.

Huang is hoping to add to her Asian Games medal tally in the 10m air rifle mixed team event, while Han will go for more glory in both the individual and team events for women's 50m rifle 3 positions.

After the Asiad, the trio will switch their focus to securing spots at next year's Paris Olympics, where they hope to continue their inexorable rise.

"Shooting is a sport in which you compete against yourself," Huang said. "Regardless of who my opponent is, I'll strive to give my best."

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