Yukoners at home on the range

They call it the ‘wailing wall.’ In the athletes’ warm-up area, deep in Vanier Secondary School, there’s a wall where…

They call it the ‘wailing wall.’

In the athletes’ warm-up area, deep in Vanier Secondary School, there’s a wall where shooting officials post the competitions’ preliminary results.

There, shooters and coaches can examine the scores.

That’s where the wailing comes in.

And it may be the loudest thing you’ll hear at a shooting competition.

On Wednesday afternoon, the men’s team air-rifle competition was in full swing in the school’s gym, but it was tough to tell how the athletes were faring.

Shooting is not a spectator-friendly sport.

Athletes on the range were deep in concentration, and the spectators spoke in hushed tones trying hard not to break the athletes’ focus.

It was a bit like being in a library. With guns.

There was no cheering from the stands, no hot dog vendors and no cries or sighs from the athletes.

The only sounds in Vanier’s gym were the humming of the ventilation system and the random clatter of pellets firing through chambers.

 “It’s the boringest, the quietest — it’s standard, you don’t even need to tell people to be quiet,” said Yukon’s team coach Ken Speiss.

“Most of us are really good at getting ourselves psyched up to go play baseball or hockey, but for this you’ve got to calm down,” said Speiss.

“Take your emotions and channel them, that’s what’s killing them now is their nerves.”

Butterflies are tough for the young athletes to overcome, especially since many of the territory’s eight shooters only have four months of training under their belts.

“Because they don’t have any experience, I just tell them to have fun — treat it like a fun match we have at home on our own range,” said Speiss.

Team Yukon also lacks the sport’s formal clothes and specialty shoes that force the body into a straighter, stiffer posture.

“Most of the other teams are fully equipped with the pants and jackets, but most of our guys only have the jackets,” said Speiss.

“I’ve always been a big believer in learning to shoot first and then getting the equipment.”

The jackets run $400 so they’re shared within the Yukon club. It’s the same thing with the pistols, which start at $2,000 apiece.

“They’re doing pretty well considering the equipment isn’t tailored to them,” he added.

“I just like to shoot at the target and try to beat everyone else,” said Whitehorse’s 16-year-old Nicholas John Rittel while packing up his rifle.

“It’s definitely not the best I’ve shot, but it was fun,” 15-year-old Yukon shooter Jakob Breithaupt said after coming off the range.

“It’s amazing,” he said of seeing the shooters from across the country compete.

“You’re not supposed to, but you look over at the guys shooting next to you and when they reel the target back every time it’s a perfect shot,” he said.

“You just have to try to match that and do your best.”

While Breithaupt was shooting, his mother, Gisela Niedermeyer, was watching quietly from the stands.

Her son was focused, only breaking his concentration once or twice to check for his family members’ faces in the crowd.

“It’s nice to see that level of concentration that you don’t normally see on the schoolwork,” Niedermeyer said with a laugh.

Niedermeyer has two sons on Yukon’s shooting team, Jakob, and 13-year-old Kai Breithaupt, who’s competing in pistol.

Having two sons in the sport leaves Niedermeyer at a disadvantage in the water-gun fights the family has at home, but the boys give her a fighting chance.

“They let me use a yogurt container,” she added with a laugh.

At the top levels, shooting is a methodical sport.

Some might call it robotlike.

Feet are planted on the edge of the green dividing line in flat-soled shoes specially designed for the sport. The shoes prevent toe-wiggling.

Backs are ramrod straight, corseted in leather-strapped jackets that force strong postures and pants that don’t allow knees to bend.

Each shot follows a carefully practiced routine.

The shooter loads a clean paper target into a metal holder and runs it out to the far end of the range on a clothesline pulley system.

Then the shooter loads a keyhole-shaped pellet into the rifle, and brings the sight up to the eye.

Every time a shooter squeezes the trigger, there’s the potential to score 10 points. Or lose those points.

Each competitor is given 60 numbered targets and is only allowed one shot per target; if they miss, there is no second chance.

One flub-up could mean the difference between first and eighth place.

After shooting 10 targets, the shooter hands them off to a race marshal who, checks and initials them before they’re run to the judging room.

Ties are broken with a “countback” system. So if two competitors end an event with the same score, judges look at what they scored on their last batch of 10 cards, and keep looking further and further back until the tie is broken.

Breithaupt and Rittle finished eighth in Wednesday’s team air rifle event.

Yukon’s women’s team, which is made up of Whitehorse shooters Cassandra Henderson and Nina Herzog, finished 11th.

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