Minna Leinonen ready for life after sport as she reflects on career

Finnish shooter will not attempt to defend her world title in Cheongju 22 Feb 2018
Women in a shooting range targeting

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

ⒸMaiju Torvinen

While most athletes are preparing for the first World Shooting Para Sport competition of 2018 in Al Ain, UAE, that is just one month from now, one of the sport’s top names has decided not to go for another year.

Finland’s rifle specialist Minna Leinonen will not attempt to defend her world title in Cheongju, South Korea, in May.

The Al Ain World Cup from 22-27 March will be important for shooters’ preparations for the 2018 Worlds. But for Leinonen, retiring before instead of after the World Championships felt right.

“I feel that I've given my all to shooting and got everything I ever wanted from it,” Leinonen said. “Continuing would have required deep fire in heart, but I don't have it anymore.”

The Finnish athlete competed at the Rio 2016 Paralympics in R5 (mixed 10m air rifle prone SH2) and finished in the top-20, a performance she admitted she was not satisfied with, however, “doesn’t feel bad about it or regret anything.”

But she did not retire immediately after her fourth Games.

Instead, Leinonen tested where her heart was in the sport.

“I had decided to have a year off after Rio and give myself enough time to find out if I'll start missing shooting,” she said. “As longing never showed up the decision was quite easy to do. Now it feels good to have time and power to study and do many other things that I couldn't do during my shooting career.”

She is currently studying literature at a university in Jyvaskyla, Finland, and cherishes many memories from her long career in the sport.

In her Paralympic debut at Athens 2004, Leinonen won gold with a Paralympic and world record in the 10m air rifle prone SH2. Despite missing out on the podiums at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, she showed she can still contend for another Paralympic medal after winning the 2014 World Championships in Suhl, Germany.

If she had to choose between her gold from Athens or Suhl, she would say Suhl.

“It was the one I had longed for many years and achieving it was a breathtaking moment,” she said.

At 36 years old and competing in the sport for almost 17 years, Leinonen grew up with shooting Para sport and is grateful for how it has helped her prepare for life after sports.

“Recalling all the camps and competitions makes me smile,” she said. “Practicing and competing included lots of inspiring work, much excitement and relief, many merry moments with team mates and other shooters. As a young, somewhat shy wheelchair girl I couldn't have imagined becoming a top athlete and exceeding myself over and over again.”

The 2018 Al Ain World Cup will be the last chance for shooters to earn valuable MQS (minimum qualifying score) points in 25m and 50m events towards the 2018 Worlds.