Young gun off to Rio
In Rio, Aislin Jones will become Australia's youngest shooting athlete to compete at an Olympic Games but her journey to the international stage began at Field & Game in Bairnsdale.
At the end of June, Aislin Jones was in Baku, Azerbaijan, competing in her first World Cup skeet event.
In a promising sign ahead of the Rio Olympic Games, she was ranked eighth after hitting 70 of 75 targets in the qualification rounds.
When she competes in Rio, Aislin will be aged just 16 years and 179 days.
“We've set goals for the event; I just have to go there and enjoy the experience and know that I've done my best,” she said.
“If I set unrealistic expectations of myself, I am only going to come away disappointed.”
Aislin started shooting Simulated Field at Bairnsdale, following her father, Dave Jones, into the sport.
“I followed Dad around to a lot of shoots and had a go; it looked like fun and something different to try,” she said.
“They were a great bunch of people and they helped me out a lot when I first started.”
It was soon evident that Aislin was a natural, and a lefty, which attracted the attention of Lauryn Mark, another lefty, who finished fourth in women's skeet at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
“Lauryn was excited there was a junior girl and a left hander like herself and she got me into ISSF skeet.
“Coming from a sporting background, skeet has all the different targets so it was very similar to what I had been doing.
“It has definitely been a lot of work. I'm training at the moment three or four times a week on the range and I have a laser simulator at home.”
Bairnsdale FGA helped the transition by resurrecting an old skeet shooting range that had been inactive for a decade.
Aislin said that support had been critical because it allowed her to train more often than if she had to train in Melbourne.
“Without their support I wouldn't have got to where I am now; they are a big part of it,” she said.
“The support has been incredible; everyone was willing to help me out and give me tips.”
Aislin's dad Dave, a paramedic, shot clays as a teenager and picked up the sport again when he moved to Gippsland.
Aislin started out scoring and pushing the button to release targets but her interest continued and by age 12 she was competing with a second-hand 20 gauge.
“She took to it like a duck to water,” Dave said.
“It is an instant gratification sport; you get an instant result even if you only hit 10 targets and then the challenge is there to hit more.
“It is an intensely mental sport — the ability to control yourself and not let a missed target turn into another three misses; you have to have the right sort of personality for it.
“Aislin has the right personality type; she doesn't outwardly display a lot of emotion, she's very calm, considered and humble.”
The long hours at the range and additional training, including eye exercises that involve darting from one dot to another along a ruler to improve focus, have paid off.
“Within a year of starting shooting coaching, we sat down and mapped out an eight-year plan culminating with the Tokyo Olympics in 2020,” Aislin said.
“I'm four years ahead of plan. I think I just progressed faster than the realistic goals we set.”
Aislin won't reveal her goals for Rio but if history is any guide, there might need to be a reassessment mid-stream.
“I'm just going to let it happen,” she said.
Bairnsdale FGA members, who were the first to spot Aislin's potential at age 12 and have done everything possible to support her development, will certainly be watching on proudly when she competes in Rio.
“We would not be in this position without the support of the club,” Dave said.