INNISFIL, Ontario -- Jay Shi stood on his first international podium on Sunday hoisting the silver medal he won in the men’s 10-meter air pistol at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games.
But the story of how he came to wear red, white and blue is one of inopportune circumstance. If not for an eye injury sustained as an 11-year-old, he might have been basking in a different set of colors.
Shi, a native of China, was attempting to cut a string with a dull set of scissors and sliced his right eye, prompting his family to move to the U.S. for medical services. They settled in Phoenix, where his father found work as a chemist and his mother as a doctor. Both were in attendance the Pan Am Shooting Centre on Sunday, along with his wife.
“It’s a tremendous support for them to be here,” Shi said. “They’ve been with me along the way.”
It has taken nearly 10 years for Shi to master his precision, he says, but the 36-year-old is still a relative newcomer to the sport. He didn’t compete internationally until 2013, and his parents wouldn’t allow him to shoot in his adolescence.
His solution? Settle for another target.
Shi picked up archery, and along the way, skills including precision, muscle memory and mental focus, which have been a major factor in his success with a gun.
“I think archery built all my muscle and gave me and understanding of what competition is all about,” he said. “It’s not all about hitting a target, but about your mental side and how disciplined you are. So I think that helped me along the way a bit.”
Shi admits that he still has improvements ahead, including improving his execution in high-pressure moments. He generally trains in solitude and silence, so the platform on Sunday – a mental discord between the competitors aiming to focus and fans loudly cheering – was particularly distracting.
In Sunday’s final, competitors with the lowest score at each interval stage were eliminated, leaving the top competitor remaining – Brazil’s Felipe Almeida Wu. Shi finished with 199.0 points – just 2.8 behind the gold medalist.
“It was rough, but I did everything I could,” Shi said. “The conditions were nice. He was just too good.
“I just think about execution; the perfect feel. I lost it out there. After that, I just tried to get back out there and black out everything. I think with every sport at the top echelon, it’s always mental. That’s where you have the edge. Technique, it’s easy to practice. But mental means a lot more.”
In the women’s air pistol final, Sandra Uptagrafft and Courtney Anthony were the first two eliminated in the eight-person round, finishing with scores of 74.0 and 93.9.
The performance was particularly disheartening for Anthony, who had entered the final as the favorite after posting a Pan American Games qualification record of 386 earlier that afternoon.
“I think nerves just kind of get to you,” Anthony said. “I don’t really feel them until I get on the line and start looking at the signs and go: ‘Oh wow. Things are getting a little shakier. … Finals, I’ve always kind of struggled a little bit with them, so it’s just something to go home and train harder on.”
Nick Mowrer was the lone American who did not compete in the finals after narrowly missing the eight-person cut and settling for ninth. Mowrer tied eighth-place Manuel Sanchez of Chile in points (586) and inner-10s (17x), but was ousted, 95-93, in the last string – a third and determining tiebreaker.