They say silver medallists tend to get the worst of it. So near yet so far, separated from your goals by the tiniest of margins. Dwelling on the singular yet stinging thought of what could have been.
The doleful image of figure skater Alexandra Trusova immediately comes to mind. Having come second in the women’s single event at the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, the then 17-year-old Russian broke down in tears ahead of the victory ceremony. “I hate this sport. I don’t want to do anything in figure skating ever in my life! Everyone has a gold medal, everyone but me,” she had said, sobbing inconsolably.
To be sure, rifle shooter Mary Carolynn Tucker, one of USA’s brightest, was dejected as well when she ended up on the wrong side of things at her Olympic debut in Tokyo, two years ago. Partnering ace marksman Lucas Kozeniesky in 10m air rifle mixed team, Tucker had to settle for silver as Yang Qian and Yang Haoran claimed the top spot. In a nip-and-tuck affair, the Chinese team had triumphed 17-13.
But Tucker doesn’t believe in looking back cause there is just so much that remains to be done. “Shooting motivates me. I mean there’s always more to do. There’s always a higher score. So, it’s nice that you can always push to keep doing better and there’s never going to be an end,” she tells Sportstar, having just won the 10m air rifle silver in the ongoing ISSF World Cup in Bhopal.
Tucker’s words are a tad philosophical and demand attention. She almost gives you the impression of a scholar. And at the same time, she is all things cool; tattoos, streaks, glitzy frames, used to own and ride horses. Interestingly enough, she can fleetingly switch between these two personae.
She was once called the ‘rebel child’ of US shooting. And it doesn’t take long to find out why. Explaining how she got into the sport, Tucker says, “I started shooting in 2017. I went to a high school that had (sports) teams. My mom told me I could join any team except shooting...
“So, I joined the shooting team,” she cackles after ensuring the punchline had the desired effect. Incidentally, Tucker had later quit her high school team to learn the sport all by herself via YouTube videos and other online resources.
Her gold medal match on Friday, was anything but commonplace. The whole gallery backed her to win. But that’s only usual, when you have China – India’s archrival – in the fray. But the fact that she giggled at her own scores during the competition and turned towards her coach to signal with a smile that nothing is working is something unheard of in a shooting range. The 21-year-old went down 16-4 to Huang Yuting.
The breed of shooters tends to be stoic and inexpressive during a game. Their off-field personalities may be quite different but, on the range, they are immovable blocks of stone. Mostly because shooting requires you to be able to pace your breathing and in turn control your heartbeat.
But of course, Tucker had to be built different. “Yeah, I don’t pay attention when I shoot. I actually found that when I’m being very serious and focused, I tend to think too much about things. Then I try to push too hard and I end up doing worse. So I try to just have fun instead, and end up doing better,” Tucker, double gold medallist at the 2021 NCAA Championships, says.
Tucker loves it here. The place and culture of India aside, she even seems to shoot better in these conditions. Her last visit to the country was in 2021, when at the Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range in New Delhi, Tucker climbed on the podium thrice, winning all colours of medals.
With Bhopal added to the tally now, four of Tucker’s six World Cup medals have come in India. “The facilities here (in Bhopal) are actually very nice. I liked the New Delhi range, but I like this range a little bit better. It is (swankier), it’s newer and the layout is very nice. Everything is so clean and I like it a lot.
“Our stay too has been pretty good so far (the US team is put up in a five-star property at Shyamla Hills). Our flight home did get cancelled, so that’s a little bit, a little sucks (sic) (laughs). But you know what, it’s okay. We’ll get home eventually. Maybe now that we’re here for a couple of extra days (we can explore the city),” Tucker sounds excited.
She is surprised when she hears about the government rewarding athletes for excellent performances in this part of the world. “From the government, we don’t (get monetary benefits). Everything is from our Olympic Committee and we get some just for medals specifically. USA Shooting, our federation, pays us as well.”
Obviously, Tucker’s biggest mission now is to change the colour of her medal at the fast-approaching mega-event in Paris. For that she praises the ‘University’ structure of shooting in the States.
“Well, I’m lucky I have my university, so I get to compete every weekend with different universities and there’s a lot of different people in it and we have a lot of internationals as well. So, they get a lot of different and higher scores. So, I’m always competing. And then just being friends with my other team members, one of them was in this final as well (Maddalena Sagen). We do trainings together and stuff. So, it’s very friendly now and I have a lot of fun. So, I think as long as you keep it fun, you can keep doing it,” Tucker, a student of the West Virginia University, says.
And she has countless ways to remind herself to stay on the right track. Her forearms are inked with a depiction of the Olympic rings. Her coach Jayme Shipley is an Olympian who keeps pushing her to do better. Lastly, even Tucker carries around a funky business card that resembles a paper target!
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