Para Shooters about to take aim in Tokyo

Australia’s three member Para Shooting team has arrived in Tokyo for the Paralympic Games, and they will be relying on past Games experience to help overcome the lack of international competition over the past two years to qualify for the finals and challenge for places on the medals podium.

Rifle athlete Anton Zappelli and Pistol shooter Chris Pitt will be backing up for their second successive Paralympic Games, while Rifle competitor Natalie Smith will be lining up for her third Games having captured a bronze medal on debut at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

Smith will compete in the R2 Women’s 10m Air Rifle Standing and, teaming with Zappelli, the R3 Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone. Zappelli will also contest the R6 Mixed 50m Rifle Prone. Pitt will compete in the P1 Men’s 10m Air Pistol and the P3 Mixed 25m Pistol.

Because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, the Para Shooters, like their Olympic team cohort, have relied on domestic competitions this year to prepare them for Tokyo, and even that has proven challenging with regular border closures.

“Not being able to compete internationally has been quite hard because you use those competitions to gauge where you’re at competitively,” said Smith.

Regardless of the lack of international competition, all three athletes are taking a step by step approach to their competitions.

“It will be two years since we’ve shot at an international comp. I’m looking forward to getting into a line of shooters who all want to shoot the best they can,” said Pitt.

“My goals are to stay calm, don’t panic and just shoot the process. If I shoot the process and keep the nerves to a manageable level, then I’m hoping to make the final. There is no reason why I can’t make the final in the Sports Pistol match,” he added.

Zappelli agrees with Pitt saying: “My goal is just to shoot well, follow the process and make the final in both matches. If I make the final, then I get a chance to get a medal. I expect to make the finals, that’s the aim and that’s my goal.”

Currently, Zappelli is Australia’s highest world ranked Para Shooter with ranking of number three in the Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone and he knows little separates the best athletes from a technical aspect.

Once you develop a certain skill level, it comes down to the mental game, and that plays the biggest part once you have those skills,” explained Zappelli.

“With Rifle it is quite simple. But stringing 60 shots together and trying to hit 10.9’s every time is mentally challenging.

For Pitt, his journey to Tokyo followed a rocky path after being diagnosed with tongue cancer in October last year.

He endured 14 hours of surgery, including a skin graft to replace a piece of his tongue, followed by months of radiation therapy.

“I exercised every day. The motivation of Tokyo helped me get through,” said Pitt who was denied a bronze medal in a shoot-off in the P3 Mixed 25m Pistol final at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

“Getting a medal would be awesome,” said Pitt. “But I’m more focussed on shooting my process, trying to stay calm and not be as nervous as I was in Rio, make the final and go from there.”

The 12-month postponement of the Games was timely for Smith as she was battling a shoulder injury last year.

She believes the Paralympic Games will be a world healing event.

I think representing Australia at this Games is probably more important with what’s been going on globally and within the community. The spirit is still there,” said Smith.

Pitt is relishing being part of the wider Australian Paralympic team in Tokyo,

“The feeling you get as part of the Paralympic team is that you feel part of a family. That team spirit is very special,” said Pitt.

Zappelli is looking forward to pulling on the green and gold when the Para Shooting competition commences on Monday.

“It’s a big thing to represent your country. It’s an honour to be able to do that, and it would be great to bring back gold,” he said.

The Australian Para Shooters competition schedule is:

Date Athlete Event
Monday, August 30 Natalie Smith R2 10m Rifle Standing
Tuesday, August 31 Chris Pitt P1 10m Air Pistol
Wednesday, September 1 Natalie Smith & Anton Zappelli R3 Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone
Thursday, September 2 Chris Pitt P3 Mixed 25m Pistol
Sunday, September 5 Anton Zappelli R6 Mixed 50m Rifle Prone
Shooting Australia