After hard work, shooter beaten by big 'O'

The Monitor has been following the progress of US Olympian Beki Snyder. Third in a series.

Beki Snyder plops down in a chair outside the Sydney International Shooting center Sunday morning, emotionally spent, and allows the warm Australian sunshine to dry the tears that have been running down her cheeks for 30 minutes.

But it's doing nothing for her heart, which is broken. "I knew I could medal," she says softly. That was when things went wrong, which then "snowballed," says Snyder, into everything going wrong.

Competing in the women's 10-meter air-pistol preliminaries against 52 competitors, Snyder tied for a disappointing 25th-place finish. Her score for 40 rounds out of a maximum possible 400 was 376; it took a minimum of 383 to get into the eight-woman final. But Snyder was three points better than her 1996 Atlanta Olympic showing, and she smiles wryly, trying to find something - anything - good about a miserable performance: "My bad days are getting better."

Still sniffling, Snyder tries to come up with an explanation: "I beat myself. I tried too hard. There was too much pressure, and there is just no way you can prepare for all of it here. I wanted to shoot well. I didn't purposefully try to shoot bad shots." She falls silent, wipes her eyes, and stares into space.

Snyder fired all 9s and 10s (10 is a perfect shot) except for one 8. The problem - indeed, who knows why - was that while she routinely can blast long sequences of 10s in practice, she didn't here. Snyder managed just three 10s in a row twice, which is far below Olympic caliber. National pistol team coach Erich Buljung points to technical problems but concludes: "She ran into the big 'O' word."

Maybe, Snyder continues to muse, she took too long fiddling before she shot. (Rules allow competitors 1-1/4 hours to shoot the 40 shots.) Before every shot, she'd adjust her stance, her view of the front sights, her picture of the target, her grip on the trigger. "I think," she sighs, "that I should have just stopped messing with everything."

There's a lot of shrugging and sighing and more tears. "I worked hard in practice, and I worked hard here," she says. "I just didn't know I'd be so unrewarded for my efforts." At the end of this qualifying round - which was won by China's Luna Tao, who went on to win the gold medal - Buljung tried to console Snyder. But he admitted later he didn't do much good because, "What do you say to someone who has just had a failure?"

Actually, the day seemed ill-starred from the start. Snyder simply didn't look calm and relaxed and on top of her game. Her father, Raleigh, who lives in Fruita, Colo., and is a shooter himself, said he concluded early on that "she might as well put her gun back in the box."

Back in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center prior to coming here earlier this month, Snyder seemed to have things going her way. She was focused but not obsessively so, and she was quick to laugh, like when she was asked if it bothered her that in the scope of human endeavors, shooting a pistol isn't all that important: "Of course it's not. I'm not feeding the hungry ... teaching the unlearned. This is a great sport, and I love to do it, but ... it's a sport. It's certainly not making a better world. It's the lifeboat scenario. Leave me. Take the physics professor."

Fortunately, perhaps, Snyder will get another chance Friday when she competes in the 25-meter pistol. Buljung expects to see a more focused Snyder - she admits to letting extraneous thoughts float in and out of her head Sunday - and a tougher Snyder. She agrees and says, "I was not pleased with the competitor I was."

And after a few more tears, she expects to crank it back up and get back in the medal hunt. "If you expect nothing," she says, "that's pretty much what you'll get."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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