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BEIJING 2008

This shooter isn't so sharp

Du Li, under pressure in the 10-meter air rifle to win China's first gold of the Beijing Games, finishes fifth.

August 09, 2008|Evan Osnos | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- A sharpshooter under intense pressure to become China's first gold medalist of the Beijing Games fell short this morning, failing to medal and stunning a home crowd in the first medal event of the Games.

The burden of heavy expectations on Du Li in the women's 10-meter air rifle owed to nothing more than the Olympic schedule, which had placed her relatively obscure event on the first morning of competition.

After placing fifth, the 26-year-old Du said: "I wasn't fully prepared for the pressure of competing at home."

She passed a group of reporters, still clutching her rifle with tears streaming down her cheeks, and slipped away.

The winner Saturday, Czech shooter Katerina Emmons, set an Olympic record with a score of 503.5, beating the old mark of 502.0. She led the field throughout the competition and was the first woman ever to reach a perfect score of 400 in the qualifying round.

The silver medal went to Lioubov Galkina of Russia, with a score of 502.1, followed by Snjezana Pejcic of Croatia, who earned a bronze with a 500.9. The top American, Jamie Beyerle, placed fourth with a 499.8.

Du's prospect of winning the aoyun shoujin, or "first Olympic gold," had particular importance to the Chinese, who are intent on raising their gold-medal count higher than in previous Games -- perhaps even dislodging the United States as the top gold-medal winner.

In the final days before the competition, Du had appealed to the public: "Please don't hype up it up." She had reminded them of the experience of Zhao Yinghui, another promising Chinese sharpshooter who had been expected to win the first gold of the Athens Olympics in 2004. Like Du, Zhao fell short, and her performance was blamed on the pressure born of endless discussion of her prospects.

Du finished with a score of 499.6. She started the final round with a misstep: Her first shot landed well wide of the bull's-eye, earning a 9.8 and drawing a gasp from the mostly Chinese crowd. She recovered to land an impressive pair of 10.4s, but she never rose higher than fourth place.

Du has another opportunity to compete in the women's 3-positions rifle competition. By then, she will be just another athlete.

"There are still four days before my next competition," she said, "which enables me to adjust myself."

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