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Feature: Grand Slam winner Yang Haoran still on the road

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by sportswriters Wang Meng and Shen Nan

BEIJING, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) — Be it Olympic gold, World Championships or World Cup final, Yang Haoran has won every possible title in his career as a shooter.

When he got a video call from his worried mother saying that his cat had broken his World Cup final trophy, he simply said, “No big deal. I have another one anyway.”

Now the Grand Slam winner is heading for his third World Championships in Cairo, Egypt after excelling in the national trials.

“My primary goal is to earn a quota place for China,” Yang said ahead of the tournament, which is one of the qualifiers for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

“Of course I set my eyes on the championships, but more importantly I hope to challenge myself and learn from the experience, as chances of participating in major competitions have been rare since the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The World Championships will adopt a new competition format by the International Shooting Sport Federation and that has brought about challenges for athletes, maybe more so for veteran shooters that have experienced several versions.

“There will be more uncertainties under the new rules, as two athletes start from zero in the medal match. And you need to improve your stamina because there are more shots compared to the rules in the previous cycle,” explained Yang, who temporarily put aside 50m rifle three positions to focus on air rifle.

“Also, the match schedule becomes more compact, which makes it tiring and distracting for athletes to compete in multiple events. An all-rounder can be a master of none.”

To adapt to the changes, Yang has accelerated his rhythm of firing under the advice of his new coach, former Olympic champion Du Li.

“He was already an Olympic champion, and I was worried I might not be able to bring the best of him or we could have communication problems,” 40-year-old Du confessed of her hesitation when she was assigned to coach Yang at the end of last year.

However, Du’s concerns proved to be entirely unfounded.

“Regardless of experience, no athlete can train alone without a coach, who can provide an objective view when you are blurred by your problems.

“We used to spend years training together and we know each other well. She was a top-level athlete, so she understands what I feel and knows my technical problems. We had perfect communication,” Yang said of his former teammate who retired after the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

That was also when the genius fell from the altar.

Picking up shooting in 2008, Yang turned professional in 2010 to embark on his journey to the national team and won gold at the Asian Championships in 2012 on his international debut at the age of 16.

He went on with his medal haul in the following two years, triumphing in nearly every major competition he featured in, be it the National Games, World Cup Finals, World Championships, Youth Olympic Games or Asian Games.

Recalling his smooth, or perhaps over-smooth journey in the early years, Yang said he felt “unreal.”

“It’s like you attend fewer classes than others but get the best marks in every exam. You just choose ‘C’ for any question you are unsure of, and all of them turn out to be correct. That definitely makes you feel unreal,” he explained.

In Rio, 18-year-old Yang got to know what difficulties looked like. He finished only 31st in the 10m air rifle qualification with 620.5 points, 10 points below par for him.

The hot favorite did not even make it to the final.

Looking back on his Olympic debut, Yang said he was grateful for that disappointing experience.

“If I didn’t fall down and had won a gold medal back then, I would not be who I am now,” he said.

He confessed that the woeful memories occasionally struck him when he was in Tokyo for his second Olympics, but he was mature enough not to let his past get the better of him.

“I think Tokyo was my best performance, both in individual and mixed team events, not in terms of points, but how I was able to give full play to my capabilities honed all these years to cope with the pressure and unexpected situations in the match.

“It was fair to say I surpassed myself,” said Yang, who did not make a single sub-10 shot during the entire Tokyo Olympics.

After winning the mixed team gold with Yang Qian, Yang Haoran was finally a Grand Slam winner, what he was expected to achieve four years ago.

He was no longer the youngest in the rifle team as he was when first called up. Years of training and hardworking made him the oldest, and now, the team captain.

But he still longs for more.

Yang added “TBC” after his name on China’s Twitter-like Weibo after the Tokyo Olympic Games. He didn’t hide his ambitions to win an individual Olympic gold.

“I still want to give it a try,” said Yang. “Whether it’s 10m air rifle individual, or mixed team, or 50m rifle three positions, I hope I can compete in all three events in Paris as long as it’s possible.”

Paris 2024 is the mid-term goal on Yang’s agenda. He set his short-term target on the Asian Games in Hangzhou in 2023.

“As for my long term goal, it is to compete for as long as I still love this sport. I continue my career because of my passion for shooting. Surely I have goals, but they are more like steering a direction. At the end of the day it’s all about my love for the sport,” he said.

Off the shooting range, Yang has a varied taste for books. His favorite writer is Haruki Murakami. Keigo Higashino’s mystery novels also attract him. Classics like ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘The Moon and Sixpence’ are on his shelves, together with three volumes of A Hypnotists Notes, China’s first documentary of psychological reasoning.

But what influenced him most was a book titled ‘Standing on the Edge of Two Worlds’. The author Chen Hao, who could hardly move his body since birth, was diagnosed by the doctor to live no longer than five years old and suffered from heart failure since 11. He passed away at the age of 20 and his mother filed his works, including prose, novels and letters, into a book.

“I was 19 when I read the book, and I was totally overwhelmed,” Yang recalled, adding that he also read the book ‘Temple of Earth and I’ by novelist Shi Tiesheng, who became paralyzed at a young age.

“I don’t like autobiographies of celebrities. Their words count because they have already succeeded,” Yang explained. “I prefer to read stories of those who are doomed to fail, but try hard to enjoy their lives with love for this world.”

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