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Page last updated at 15:47 GMT, Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A lesson from Scotland's shooting stars

By Rhona McLeod
BBC Scotland's Sport Monthly

Guns scare me.

We do not see guns on the street with our police and UK airports are one of the few places we have to witness their presence.

I remember being in snowy Colorado and witnessing a car crash. The Highway Patrol man invited me to sit in the back of his car to give my statement.

Although a metal grill separated me and the rifle locked in the front, I was desperate to get the statement over and done with and get as far away from this loaded monster as possible.

Scottish shooter Jen McIntosh
McIntosh picked up three medals at the Commonwealth Games

There is no doubt, the horrors of Dunblane, Cumbria and Hungerford have greatly fuelled my fear.

And so where does this disdain of guns leave me as I consider shooting as a sport?

I have to admit, prior to the Delhi Commonwealth Games, I had an admiration for the athletes; the shooters who excel in their sport, but my overwhelming attitude towards the tools of their trade greatly diminished my enthusiasm.

And so, in India, thanks to the incredible precision, professionalism and performances of the likes of Jon Hammond and Jen McIntosh, the Scottish shooting team was by far the most successful of all our athletes.

These young people are just like the vast majority of the gold medal-winning athletes I have met.

Likeable, focused, intelligent and reliable… and yet, because they are shooters, I have heard others; people who do not know them, refer to them in disparaging terms.

I felt the need to be educated, to try to separate the sport from the stigma.

I travelled to the Aberdeen training base of Jen McIntosh, Scotland's most successful female competitor in Delhi with two golds and a bronze.

The 19-year-old trains alongside Neil Stirton, winner of a gold and bronze in Delhi - and with a silver from the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

Both Jen and Neil were delighted to be able to educate and share in their sport and the results can be seen in Sport Monthly on 4 December.

As we walked down to the range, I discovered their conversation was exactly the same as other sports people, talking of training, coaches, competitions, frustrations by performance and injuries.

As they showed me the target 50 meters in the distance, I was astonished by the sheer endeavour of holding a 6kg rifle steady enough to hit the centre of the 1cm bull's-eye time after time after time.

I had no idea if the gun sights offered magnification. They do not.

In plain terms, they were seeing what I was seeing - which, from 50 meters, is not very much!

As Jen prepared to fire her first shot, I backed off for fear of being deafened by the blast. And then came a smooth click.

Not so much a bang as the sound of a well-oiled machine being snapped into position.

Scottish shooter Jen McIntosh
McIntosh's sport requires great strength and concentration

Immediately, all eyes fell on the electronic monitor to reveal her score. It's all about bettering scores in this sport and Jen efficiently reassembled and fired again.

For me, even at this early stage, the gun had lost its power to repulse me.

Like a hockey stick, tennis racket, or archery bow, this was merely a piece of equipment used to achieve success in the sporting arena.

As a former long jumper and hurdler, I was interested in the physicality required. I may even have uttered "shooting's not really a sport" in the past.

Before long, I was buttoning myself into the rigid, supportive jacket and shimmying into the prone position to test my abilities.

Within moments, I discovered the strength required is immense, but it has to be a relaxed effort or pain and tension quickly ensues.

After Jen managed to fold me, the jacket and the rifle into the stable prone position, I felt totally unable to move. Good from a stability point of view. Bad from a cramping point of view!

I shot for only five or six minutes. It was compulsive and I loved it. My top score was 7.4, which pleased me enormously.

I would have carried on, but even after such a short time, my body was tense, tired and stiff. Even 24 hours later and after a hot bath, I was still suffering.

Believe me, it's a sport - and a tough one at that.

Slowly but surely, the likes of Jen and Neil can separate the sport from the stigma. We only have to give them a fair hearing.

Sport Monthly will be broadcast on BBC Two Scotland on 4 December at 1755 GMT.

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What India needs to do to build on sporting foundations

AP India on track
Matthew Pinsent hopes India emerges as a sporting powerhouse

see also
Miley named top Commonwealth Scot
28 Nov 10 |  Commonwealth Games
McIntosh reflects on triple medal haul
12 Oct 10 |  Scotland
Scotland win two shooting golds
12 Oct 10 |  Commonwealth Games
Scotland take shooting gold medal
11 Oct 10 |  Commonwealth Games

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