The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

STAND­ING stock-still, right arm out­stretched, eyes un­blink­ing, Myan­mar’s only Olympic qual­i­fier squeezes the trig­ger and sends a pel­let slam­ming into a pa­per tar­get – a skill honed dur­ing mil­i­tary ser­vice in the for­merly junta-run na­tion.

Ye Tun Naung, 33, is gun­ning for a medal in Rio this sum­mer, where he trav­els as an out­side bet for a podium fin­ish in two pis­tol shoot­ing events.

A medal would be a first for his na­tion, which was run for decades by a junta that lined its pock­ets while all other ar­eas of so­ci­ety – in­clud­ing sport – shriv­elled.

But in a twist of fortune, the bleak junta years ac­ci­den­tally un­locked Ye Tun Naung’s hid­den tal­ent.

He stum­bled upon a knack for shoot­ing dur­ing manda­tory tar­get prac­tice ses­sions in the navy, an in­sti­tu­tion he joined to es­cape poverty and a lack of jobs in cen­tral Myan­mar.

He first picked up a pis­tol in 2005, stun­ning more ex­pe­ri­enced mil­i­tary marks­men with vic­to­ries at naval com­pe­ti­tions.

Now more than a decade later sport’s great­est stage beck­ons as he trav­els to the Brazil­ian mega-city of Rio de Janeiro to com­pete in the 10-me­tre and 50m air or “free” pis­tol events.

“It’s not easy to have a chance to par­tic­i­pate in the Olympic Games and it’s very dif­fi­cult to win a medal,” he told AFP, as he care­fully packed his Swiss-made pis­tol into its case after a prac­tice ses­sion in a down­town Yangon shoot­ing range.

“I am hop­ing for the best. But this is a sport where men­tal­ity is key to suc­cess ... Even the best can­not be sure how they will per­form on the day,” he added.

The dis­ci­pline, which has been a part of the mod­ern Olympics since its in­cep­tion, sees shoot­ers fire 60 times at long in­ter­vals.

It is sport re­quir­ing an al­most med­i­ta­tive con­trol of body and mind, Ye Tun Nuang ex­plains, re­ly­ing on a dead eye, per­fect con­trol of breath­ing and ice-cold nerves.

“The de­ci­sion must be cer­tain and the mind must be sta­ble,” Ye Tun Naung said.

“Some peo­ple med­i­tate and some do yoga, but for me mostly I read books,” said the shooter of his ex­tracur­ric­u­lar train­ing.

“If you don’t con­cen­trate, you can’t get the mean­ing of a book. I read to train my mind to find the con­cen­tra­tion I need to shoot.”

While six in­vi­ta­tion spots have been gifted to Myan­mar ath­letes, he is the only one who will rep­re­sent his poor, newly emerg­ing coun­try on merit, hav­ing qual­i­fied through a run­ner­sup spot in a World Cup event in South Korea last year.

It will be the high point of a jour­ney from young sailor to the Olympics that is made all the more re­mark­able as its orig­i­nates in Myan­mar.

Be­fore the rot of junta rule set in, Myan­mar was some­thing of a re­gional sport­ing pow­er­house.

The mid-1960s saw the “golden age” for the coun­try’s foot­ball, with then-Burma adding tri­umphs in the 1966 and 1970 Asian Games to vic­tory at five con­sec­u­tive edi­tions of the South­east Asian Penin­su­lar Games.

But the money for sports evap­o­rated, leav­ing ath­letes, train­ers and fa­cil­i­ties to wither.

“Myan­mar faced dif­fi­cul­ties for many years and the sports sec­tor was weak. Stu­dents for ex­am­ple could not prac­tise any sport at a de­cent level at school,” said Sein Myo Myint, for­merly a fa­mous vol­ley­baller and now a prominent sports jour­nal­ist.

“New talented gen­er­a­tions could not emerge,” he added.

Sport is now creep­ing back into the life of the coun­try with prom­ises of greater in­vest­ment to match a newly found na­tional con­fi­dence.

But it will take some time for money to trickle down and un­til then Myan­mar’s ath­letes will have to sharpen their skills on their own.

For Ye Tun Naung that means hon­ing his con­cen­tra­tion – and self-be­lief – in his down­time.

“Peo­ple watch­ing might think shoot­ing is bor­ing ... but my mind is at peace when I shoot,” he added. –

Photo: AFP

Ye Tun Naung takes aim dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion at a shoot­ing range in down­town Yangon.

He is the only Myan­mar na­tional to qual­ify on merit for this year’s Games.

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