Although shooting—and Air Rifle Marksmanship in particular—is one of the oldest Olympic sports and contested as a championship-sanctioned sport by the NCAA with high school state championships in Georgia and Hawaii—it’s hardly ubiquitous in California.
That’s what makes Hypatia Shen’s achievements all the more unique. The incoming eighth-grader at Brownell Middle School has Olympic aspirations and if the last several months are any indication, she could be on target—pun intended—to reach the highest level.
The lifelong Gilroy resident won gold for Air Rifle shooting in the Women’s Under 15 category in the Junior Olympics April 12-15 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and followed that up with another significant title, winning silver and gold in the CMP 3PAR National Championships July 10-12 in Camp Perry, Ohio.
Both events are two of the biggest for target shooting sports so the 13-year-old Shen was obviously happy with her results.
“I was surprised but also felt happy [to win Junior Olympics],” she said. “It’s a great honor to get gold.”
This was the first time Shen competed in the Junior Olympics and the second time in Nationals. The competition is fierce in both events with one notable difference. In the Junior Olympics, competitors only shoot from one position: standing.
In Nationals, athletes shoot from three positions: standing, kneeling and prone.
“In the Olympics, you shoot from standing only which is the reason why I considered the Junior Olympics a little more important because standing position is kind of the hardest position out of all three positions,” she said.
In Olympic Air Rifle shooting, athletes fire a 5.6 millimeter caliber—for Junior Olympic participants it’s a smaller 4.5 millimeter—at stationary targets in indoor shooting ranges, from a prescribed distance—10, 25 or 50 meters—aiming for a bullseye on a paper target with 10 concentric circles.
There are two sub categories—50m Rifle 3 and 10m Air Rifle—with a couple of notable differences for each event. In the 50m, athletes shoot at the target from three different positions within a time frame of 2 hours, 45 minutes.
In the 10m, athletes fire 60 shots at the target in a 1 hour, 15 minute time frame, to decide who advances to the medal round. The sport requires precision, focus and tremendous muscle endurance, as athletes need to hold their body steady for long periods of time.
Shen knows it’s key to maintain a steely-eye focus during competition.
“I kind of follow the steps and don’t let anything bad get to me,” she said. “Just focus on my shots.”
Her determination, resolve and focus are equally displayed in her training sessions. She practices six to seven times a week, mostly from home on her electric target.
“When I practice, I try to fix any bad habits that I might start or mistakes when I’m shooting,” she said. “It could be maybe I’m not getting into position correctly or focusing well enough on my shots or my plan.”
Because there are no Air Rifle marksmanship club facilities in the Bay Area, Shen travels to the Lincoln Rifle Club Range northeast of Sacramento—a 2 hour, 45 minute drive one way without traffic—once a week to get specialized coaching and train with shooters at her level.
Shooting is one of the original nine sports contested in the first Athens Olympic Games in 1896. Shen has a goal to finish in the top 8 overall standings in the 2024 Junior Olympics, which would mean she would have placed among the very best in the country, including the older U18 Division.
Most of the top eight finishers come from the U18 field and graduating seniors. Shen started shooting at age 5 but didn’t start the discipline of Air Rifle marksmanship until three years ago. She’s always enjoyed shooting targets and her drive and competitiveness led her to this point.
Shen’s dad, Phil, said he named his daughter Hypatia after a Greek scholar who is one of the first notable female scientists.
“I think maybe secretly I wanted her to pursue that, but as long as she’s able to be a good, caring person, that’s really what matters,” he said. “But I also want her to do something unique and that’s why I chose that name for her.”
Note: This article will appear in the July 28 edition of the Gilroy Dispatch.