Jay Shi overcomes freak eye injury for long-awaited Olympic berth

Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — The shirt, with blue short sleeves and U-S-A written above red Olympic rings, remained stashed in the back of Jay Shi‘s closet yet at the forefront of his thoughts.

He would wear it one day. It just had to be earned first.

The shirt was more than fabric, thread, logo. It was a goal, only to be pulled off the hanger when a spot on the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team was his.

“It was out of sight but not out of mind,” Shi said.

Shooting is a sport everyday people believe they could do if they had the right training, support and equipment.

It’s a bit like golf: An average player can hit an occasional good shot, maybe string several together for a good round.

Shooting at the Olympic level goes beyond having a steady hand and a good eye at the local shooting range. It’s a mental game, locking in on the 10-ring every shot, every round under heartbeat-in-the-throat pressure, tuning out the external and internal noise to focus only on target, breath, trigger.

Shi faced even longer odds.

He was 9 when the scissors he was using for a school project slid up a string and into his right eye.

Wanting better medical care for their son, Shi’s parents moved the family from Beijing to New York, where a friend of his grandfather worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Doctors restored his vision, though far from perfectly.

The accident left Shi unable to see fine details, three dimensionally or judge distances well, impairments that would seemingly black out his future as an elite shooter.

Through years of practice, trial and error, determination overcame debilitation and Shi shifted his head, lining up his left eye down the sight of the gun positioned in his right hand.

It’s called shooting cross-eyed, the shooting equivalent of trying to drive a car from the passenger’s seat.

“It’s incredible what he’s been able to accomplish,” said Bill Poole, one of Shi’s earliest coaches at Phoenix Rod and Gun Club. “He put in the work to figure out what he needed to do.”

Shi’s parents appeased his early interest in guns by steering him toward archery, a sport he excelled at until his college workload became too unwieldy.

Once Beijing landed the 2008 Olympics, Shi was determined to return to his hometown and compete on the sporting world’s biggest stage.

Shi didn’t want to do it in archery and thought shooting might be his best chance, so he went to Walmart, bought an off-the-shelf air gun and taped a target to his refrigerator.

He hit the targets in his kitchen and in competition, too, finishing third in his first turn at nationals.

But natural talent could only take him so far. A lack of technical skill became an insurmountable impediment the deeper he went.

Shi fell short of the Beijing Olympics and again at the 2012 London Games after taking three years off — to focus on his career during the economic downturn — sending him spiraling into self-doubt.

“I wanted to quit probably more times than I can count,” he said.

Giving up was not an option, so Shi put his analytical mind to task.

The 37-year-old web developer worked the angles on his cross-eyed shooting dilemma, creating a code to shooting straight.

He tilted his head centimeters to the right. To the left. Shifted his body right. Left. His wrist, too. He tore apart his grip and rebuilt it again and again.

“It was kind of like Edison trying to find a lightbulb,” Shi said. “Then one day it just kind of fell into place; ‘This feels good.’ Then I adopted other ways into what I had just discovered. I was like like wow, this really feels natural.”

Shi’s confidence and technical skill began to rise after his ah-ha moment, mind and muscle memory narrowing into fine focus.

He earned a silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games in his first international final and peaked at the U.S. Olympics Trials in April with a dominating performance.

Shi led from the opening round in Fort Benning, Georgia, and closed with field-crushing final day, finishing 26 points ahead of his nearest competitor in men’s free pistol. Only when it was over did Shi break concentration; his father had to tell him he had made the U.S. Olympic Team.

“I thought I would be really excited, but I wasn’t,” Shi said. “I think it was because it took so long. When you have something in the back of your mind that you think about every day for 10 years, you can only dream of it and get by on desire and determination.”

Shi’s drive has led him to the Rio Olympics this August, where he’ll compete in free pistol and air gun.

It also took him to the back of his closet.

The Olympic Trials over, Shi returned home and grabbed that blue shirt with the red logo. He lifted it off the hanger, slid it over his head and checked the fit in the mirror.

“I was very proud and honored to earn the right to wear it,” he said. “I had a smile that lasted quite a while.”

MORE: Kim Rhode still No. 1 after difficult pregnancy, gun change on road to history

Asher Hong leads U.S. men’s gymnastics world team selection camp after first day

Asher Hong

Asher Hong, 18, posted the highest all-around score on the first of two days of competition at the U.S. men’s gymnastics selection camp to determine the last three spots on the team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Hong, bidding to become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009, totaled 84.6 points in Colorado Springs. He edged Colt Walker by one tenth. Tokyo Olympians Shane Wiskus (84.15) and Yul Moldauer (83.95) were next. Full apparatus-by-apparatus scores are here.

Brody Malone, who repeated as U.S. all-around champion at August’s national championships, and runner-up Donnell Whittenburg already clinched spots on the five-man team for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. They did not compete Monday, though their results from the first day of nationals are shown in the official scores.

The three remaining team spots will not necessarily go to the top three all-arounders at this week’s camp, which is supposed to be weighed equally with results from August’s nationals. Hong was third at nationals, but if excluding difficulty bonus points from that meet that will not be considered by the committee, would have finished behind Walker and Moldauer in August.

A selection committee is expected to announce the team soon after the second and final day of selection camp competition on Wednesday evening. The committee will look at overall scoring potential for the world team final, where three men go per apparatus, and medal potential in individual events.

Stephen Nedoroscik, who last year became the first American to win a world title on the pommel horse, is trying to make the team solely on that apparatus. He wasn’t at his best at nationals and struggled again on Monday, hurting his chances of displacing an all-arounder for one of the last three spots.

The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three, and its medal hopes are boosted by the absence of the Russians who won the Olympic team title. All gymnasts from Belarus and Russia are banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship

The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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