Leinonen to prepare at home for Rio 2016

With a place for the next Paralympic Games already secured, the R5 (mixed 10m air rifle prone SH2) world champion is focusing on training in Finland. 17 Aug 2015
Women in a shooting range targeting

Minna Leinonen is retiring after 17 years competing in shooting Para sport

ⒸMaiju Torvinen
By By Jake Smith | For the IPC

“Every competition is a new one and previous achievements don’t count. I’m satisfied every time when winning a medal - no matter the colour.”

With less than 400 days until the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, it is head down, guns up for shooters across the globe.

Finland’s world champion Minna is targeting a second shot at Paralympic gold after her debut Games triumph at Athens in 2004, made tantalisingly realistic by her gold medal-winning performance at the 2014 IPC Shooting World Championships.

Leinonen sealed the R5 (mixed 10m air rifle prone SH2) win by just 0.01 ahead of Serbian Dragan Ristic and by doing so secured a quota spot for Rio 2016.

“I should probably say that winning gold in Athens is my biggest achievement,” Leinonen said. “Yet in my heart I appreciate winning gold at the World Championships even more. I think that all of the R5 finalists from the 2014 World Championships are extremely tough. However, I appreciate all my fellow competitors and know that they all have a chance to perform very well”.

Leinonen had the chance to measure herself against other competitors earlier this year at the IPC Shooting World Cup in Stoke Mandeville, Great Britain, where she finished a close second behind the top ranked Ukrainian, Vasyl Kovalchuk.

When asked about her performance she said, “Every competition is a new one and previous achievements don’t count. I’m satisfied every time when winning a medal - no matter the colour.”

But the success is a world away from the past ten years of Leinonen’s career. Soon after winning gold in Athens, the 33-year-old experienced a fall from grace with disappointing results.

It has been a testing decade but her resilience and determination has been fundamental for her resurgence.

“The journey since Athens has been something I’m grateful for,” Leinonen said. “It includes many great moments of success, but also disappointments. After the 2007 European Championships there were six years until I shot a medal in a Paralympic Games or World Championships. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t change anything.”

Leinonen has regained her rhythm and clawed her way back to the top of the rankings. “It tastes even better to be back on the top level after disappointments. I think I am more refined as a shooter. I have also met wonderful people. The whole shooting family has given so much to me.”

With a world title under her belt and a ticket to Rio if she is selected, Leinonen will perfect her skills on the range from her home. “I won’t participate in remaining World Cups in Australia and America,” she said. “As I have a quota place already I won’t travel there. I’m preparing for Rio in Finland for the rest of this year.”

Rio is set to be the largest and most competitive Paralympic Games in history. Thirty-four National Paralympic Committees have already qualified in shooting and the door remains open with World Cups in Sydney, Australia, and Fort Benning, USA, acting as qualifiers still to take place.

There can only be one person standing on the top of the podium in 2016 and it will all boil down to the ability to find a moment of calm in an intense environment.

“I think that strong will is the key,” Leinonen said. “When there's the will to shoot well and succeed, there’s motivation to train enough with quality. For me, it’s easy to be focused once I know what I want and have prepared carefully for it.

“Love, ambition and bearing the priorities in mind give strength to do the things that are needed for success - year after year.”

Australia will play host to the next qualifier with an IPC Shooting World Cup from 15-19 September, presenting another opportunity for athletes to put themselves in contention for the ultimate prize.