The Olympic sport of shooting is defined by control. And at the heart of this control is the act of breathing. A rudimentary act, and done with carelessness, but enter the world of shooting and blowing, breathing ‘correctly’ is everything. Breathe steadily through your chest and lose control of your shot. Breathe through your belly and, miraculously, even competition anxiety struggles to break through mental barriers. Breathing defines an athlete in most sports, but holds a special place in shooting.
At the ongoing World Shooting Championships in Cairo, the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) has its first real test of a set of rule changes in different Olympic shooting events. While most of these rule changes are aimed at making the sport more broadcaster-friendly, some of them have essentially changed the essence of the sport, in particular the three-position 50m rifle. And at the heart of that change is an athlete’s breath. In particular, their ability to maintain a steady, calm breathing pattern as they navigate a new weather-changing scenario where everything must go according to plan for their breathing to be under their control at the start of their event.
Nikhil Latey, a physical therapist and sports scientist who has worked with shooters and athletes in different sports in the past, says there are two basic principles of breathing that make a good shooter.
“The first thing shooters have to do is breathe through your belly, the diaphragm. This does two things – first, you use less muscle. You get more air per breath and you breathe fewer times. And the amount of stress on your body decreases.
“Secondly, shooters tend to hold their breath for 30-35 seconds when shooting and this is achieved through training. You cannot hold your breath when your lungs are full of air because it creates pressure “It further increases anxiety levels, which further increases the need to breathe. If you take 30 seconds to shoot, you are now distracted by the fact that you have to breathe again,” Latey told the Indian Express. .
Why has breathing suddenly become important in three-position shooting?
Indian three position 50m rifle shooter Anjum Moudgil has seen many iterations of her sport. She came into shooting when men and women were supposed to take different numbers of kneeling, prone, and standing shots. Then the rules changed in 2018 and women were also asked to take the same number of shots as men. And now, at the start of this Olympic cycle, the event has taken another turn and moved into a sixty-shot final with a ranking series elimination and a final shootout.
Known as the shooting marathon, the 50m 3P rifle event once consisted of 120 shots, spread over three positions kneeling, prone and standing for two hours and 45 minutes. Now the event has been reduced to 60 shots per shooter, 20 in each position. The shooter needs to hit those 60 shots in 90 minutes now.
The reduction in time has resulted in reduced changeover times for shooters as well. What was previously a changeover time of seven minutes has been reduced by one minute. But that one-minute loss was a major aspect of training India’s 50m shooters at the national camp ahead of the world championships.
“Athletes now have to practice moving from one position to another in a set amount of time. Previously, more time was given to change your gear between the three events. Now, athletes must change 10 different moving parts for one event and then make six new changes for another event. All the while, they need to keep their heart rate steady. It’s like asking Usain Bolt to run a 100m sprint in under 10 seconds, but with a low heart rate,” says national 50m coach Joydeep Karmakar, who finished fourth in the event at the Games. London Olympics in 2012.
Anjum Moudgil detailed his six-minute transition from kneeling to prone position at the Indian Express. It starts with the heavy shooting jacket and pants, all strapped onto her at varying levels of adjustment, having to be removed. Next, she must pick up her gun and place it on a table. From there, she must exit and set aside all of her ammo as well as the gun rack from her crate. She then begins to adjust the settings of her rifle, starting with the butt of the rifle, then the cheek positions. The sights are then changed, specifically for the subject, and then she tinkers with the setting of her rifle here and there until the perfect combination of clicks is achieved.
The prepared weapon is then held on the table, the shooting jacket is then put on and Anjum moves to his shooting lane and takes position. There, she must take between five and 15 shots to test the settings of her weapon. She must do all this while maintaining the same level of breathing. This process was meticulously recorded in his diary. It was made after continuous hours spent on ranges in India and then perfected in tournaments around the world. Ask her how many adjustments she needs to make to her gun and tap comes the answer, “six.”
While memorizing and perfecting his seven-minute shift allows for a smooth transition to his next event, losing a minute in the process can disrupt the shooter’s flow and even breathing. That’s 15% of the time for a regimented process that suddenly got cut. Miss a slight process during the shift and panic ensues. The extra effort and anxiety that comes with a shortened time can end up affecting an athlete’s shooting scores. There is also the possibility of missing a process and making a mistake.
“During the World Cup in Baku, I had to remove a component when going from prone to standing, but it went unnoticed. Once I got into position and started aiming, it is where I realized the sights were up and down I had to go back immediately and once you put your pants and shooting jacket back on it’s not possible to really bend down.
“Things like that only take a minute but it was a big minute because then I had to re-tune my rifle and things like that can happen to any shooter anywhere,” Moudgil said. from New Delhi, a few days before leaving for the World Championships. .
It’s not just the changing times that have affected breathing. 120 shots in just under three hours meant the 50m rifle 3P event was a test of endurance. Earlier Indian shooters practiced for a numb leg in the middle of competition or had to deal with a sore thumb while shooting. The focus of filming was constantly disrupted. Now that focus has shifted to other crucial aspects.
“We used to practice for 60 shots, so we could have an easier time hitting 40 in competition. Now that it’s become 20 counts, we can focus on different things like our breathing pattern, or our triggering and tracking,” Moudgil said.
The 50m rifle 3P event is where India expects to win quota. The objective of Karmakar and Moudgil is much less. Keep the breath in check and qualify for the final first.