'I visualize myself on top of the podium'

Beki Snyder shoots for bull's-eye and wins Olympic spot - barely.

Beki Snyder is both brutally and delightfully honest about herself.

She's back here at the US Olympic Training Center, following the recent completion of qualifying trials in Atlanta to determine which women will compete in Sydney come September in the 25-meter sport-pistol and 10-meter air-pistol events.

"I expected to win the Olympic trials in both events," says Ms. Snyder. "And what a shocker. I just dropped the ball. There was no reason in my head not to just waltz in there and win. Probably, I just got too cocky. I was doing the waltzing in, but I hadn't done the preparation to allow myself to waltz."

She smiles wryly, a trifle chagrined at her performance, but relieved that it was, at least, good enough. That's because she was second in the sport pistol, and two shooters get to go to Sydney. And, in a convoluted scoring system, she narrowly made it as the second of the two-woman air pistol team. No wonder, when asked if she was concerned that despite her lofty standing in the sport, she might not make the team, she says, "Oh, yeah."

Thinking back, Snyder says, "Maybe my head was in La-La Land. You have to be brutally honest with yourself. That's the difference between a mediocre shooter and an elite shooter. I definitely have some work to do. But I can definitely do it. It's not beyond me in any way to shoot scores that win medals. I'm going to work smarter, not so much harder."

Therefore, it's possible that Snyder is, as she says, "pretty much on track on where I want to be." After all, there's no particular advantage to being first in the Olympic qualifying, other than for confidence building. The US pistol coach, Erich Buljung, agrees and says of Snyder's prospects at the Olympics, "If she sets her mind to it, she can do it. She worked really hard as a youngster, and it's paying off. But I would like to see her work a little bit harder now."

This is getting to the core of Beki Snyder. She has been shooting for more than a decade, and her philosophy is evolving:

"I think I've finally found the balance between shooting and life. For example, I understand the need for regular and consistent sleep. However, I am 24 years old, and I have the rest of my life to get eight hours of sleep. If I don't go out now and have a good time, I'm just going to get embittered. I'm going to think, 'It's shooting's fault [that] I can't have a good time.' Then you resent it and you don't want to train. I've trained hard and I've made my training time count. But when I look back on this time in my life, I want to have had some good times.

"When I was younger, shooting was the thing. If I shot bad, I felt bad about myself. Now it's a part of my life, a part of who I am, but it's like my freckles. It's not the deciding factor on how I live my life.

"Shooting is such an abusive relationship. Just when you think you have it figured out, it goes and does something. It breaks your heart. It's like an errant child.

"I don't do drugs, but that's not because it's bad for shooting but because it's bad for you in general."

Snyder's father, Raleigh Snyder, is a shooter on Colorado's Western Slope, and he instilled the basics in her. Like most who have observed Beki, he praises her competitive desire but when asked of any weaknesses in her, he eventually - and gingerly - points to "social desires."

Yet Beki Snyder thinks it's

impossible to train five days a week, 2-1/2 hours a day for months and years with single focus intensity.

"There are days," she says, "when the only reason I get out of bed is that my competition is going to train today, especially the Chinese, who don't really have a choice. If I don't train, then I'm a day behind."

But, again, she refuses to become a slave to a goal: "There are some days when I'm just beating my head against the wall. And I'm just not going to do it. So I quit practicing. There are other days when I say, 'You know what? I'm good. I had a great training. I don't need to be here for 2-1/2 hours.... I'm going to reward myself. I'm going to go."

In her darker moments, Snyder admits she thinks: "Man, if I was in college, I could start taking classes at 10 a.m. and be done by 3. I could nap and eat pizza and stay out all the time and party all I wanted to. But, oh, no, I'm here at the Olympic Training Center, where I have to train at 8 a.m. every day Monday through Friday. A lot of times, I think, 'Just let me get to the weekend, and I'll be OK.' "

The reward for any deprivation is that her rsum glitters. She made the 1996 Olympic team in air pistol; she has competed well in World Cup competitions and won the air pistol event at the Australia World Cup earlier this year; she was the female shooter of the year in 1999.

But an Olympic triumph would put all others in the shade. "I visualize myself standing on the podium," says Snyder. "On the top of the podium. Silver won't go as well with my outfit."

*The Monitor is following American shooter Beki Snyder as she moves toward competing in the Sydney Olympics. Second in a series. The first article ran June 23.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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