The Rio Olympics acted as an opportunity to start revving the engine for Amber Hill, but it’s all go from here – as James Marchington finds out…
Q. How was 2016 for you?
A. Last year was great. Starting off winning bronze at a World Cup (Cyprus) really put me in the right frame of mind going into the Olympics. It was such an honour to represent Team GB and it’s been a dream of mine since I got into shooting the Olympic disciplines at the age of 14 and it’s been a rapid journey but an incredible one for me.
Q. When you were in Rio, how did you feel in the run up to the Olympic Games?
A. On the day of the event I woke up so early – I couldn’t sleep for the excitement. When you first step out into the range you look back into the crowd, no one can prepare you for how you feel when you step into that environment. I stepped out thinking: “This is it! Four years of training, I’m here and I’ve got to make it happen!”
Mentally I took it straight back to basics, telling myself I had done this 1,000 times before. I enjoyed every single minute of it, and I just want to keep doing it now. I want to be at as many Olympics as I can, and hopefully I can come away with a gold medal at Tokyo 2020.
Q. Describe how you prepare yourself mentally for the Olympics?
For me I had to get myself so psyched up for the final – I knew that everyone I was competing against had been in an Olympic final before. You have to mentally flip a different switch and almost be a bit arrogant and cocky with yourself in your head. I told myself: “I deserve to be here. I have done everything I can. I am going to go out there and do it.”
For me that mental preparation carries me a long way. Even though it did not work out to be a medal I had done all my preparation right – it just wasn’t my day. Hopefully I have a lot more competitions and Olympics ahead of me, and looking back on it that’s what it came down to, I was a bit less experienced at the major events as my rivals. In four years’ time, I can definitely be on it.
While in Rio, how aware were you of the coverage you managed to generate in the mainstream media back home?
I stayed connected to my social media while in Rio – some athletes like to disconnect totally but I get inspiration from it. There was so much positive coverage, people were sending me so many positive messages it really did make all the difference. It’s always nice to feel you’ve got your family, friends and the country at home supporting you.
Life as an athlete
Q. How do you cope with the high pressure in competitions?
There is definitely a certain level of stress that comes with it but I always remind myself at those points the reason why you do it. For me it’s purely because I love the sport, I enjoy it and as long I keep that at the front of my mind It helps me strive for the next competition to better myself. Even if I don’t win I always try and learn from the bad experiences.
The Olympic final was definitely the most stressed situation I have been, the nerves were immense but while I was there I never wanted that feeling to end because I knew that I had worked so hard to get to this point and I deserved to be out there just as much as every other competitor.
Q. What is a typical day for you?
A. It’s quite hard, you have to put in long days: 8am-7pm is not untypical for me but it’s important to take breaks even if it’s kicking a ball around, doing other sports along the way and back yourself with those decisions and believe that you are doing the right things day to day.
My coach, Joe Neville (pictured above), lives three hours away when I am in full season preparation for competitions I will normally go up there every other week with three different training sessions in a day, working on technique, full shooting rounds and mental preparation – we really cram it in.
Knowing psychologically that you have done everything possible to get the result on that day I think is only a positive thing and that is why I train as hard as I do.
Then when I am not there I will always fit in three or four days a week of training and I also go to the gym on top of that to work on core strength, conditioning, cardio to keep my heart rate slow so I can perform at the top level.
For me, gym workouts give me an edge to hone my physical condition, help me with endurance through my training, and you can last through the recoil of training as it’s quite physical. It gives me some of the edge that maybe other competitors don’t have and enables me to cope with different climates, conditions around the world. Knowing psychologically that you have done everything possible to get the result on that day I think is only a positive thing and that is why I train as hard as I do.
Q. How do you keep your focus from competition to competition?
A. I will definitely increase the rhythm of training in the run up to competitions working with my coach, but also ensuring that I mentally relax as I find I shoot best is when I am happy in myself. Then once the competition is finished it’s almost like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders and the relief afterwards. But then you start again in the build up to the next competition but it’s a never-ending cycle – even during the off season I am constantly working towardsthe first competition of the year.
Q. What would you say to anyone young considering shooting as a sport?
A. I would love to think I am inspiring young people to get into any sport at all. I still love my make-up, doing my hair but getting out the range and doing something completely different. I distinctly remember being at school and others asking me if shooting is even a sport. But you soon learn the work and dedication you have to put in is just like any other sport – it is totally life changing.
Q. How do you think the wider world perceive shooting?
A. I would love to think that we can change perceptions of the sport, whether it’s me posting stuff on social media, or the safety aspects – there is so much focus on that and you meet so many amazing people along the way. If we can try and get that message out there it can only be a good thing.
Q. We saw you were promoting shooting by inspiring 7,000 Scouts and Guides to go shooting at the Essex Jamboree – how did that feel for you to be involved in that?
A. It was such a great event. I got to do some promotional work before the Jamboree to hopefully inspire some more young people by telling them about my journey. Just having the opportunity to try a sport is so great for young people: it gives focus, and hopefully we will have some more youngsters coming into the sport that could be the next generation of Olympians. Thousands of scouts came together and got the opportunity to try shooting. It was so incredible all those scouts wanting to get in involved.
￼￼ Amber’s journey into shooting
Q. How did you get into shooting?
A. I started when I was only 10 years old with my Granddad, basically because I didn’t want to watch my brother play rugby. I wanted something for myself and while I was really sporty and tried hockey and netball, my Granddad said he was going shooting I thought it would be cool to have a go on a shotgun. I took to it quite naturally. I starting hitting clays and I got such an adrenaline buzz from it I hit my first few clays and I really wanted to go back and do it again. The next week I went back with my Grandad and it carried on from there. It’s been an incredible journey for me – I never could have expected to be an Olympian eight years later.
Q. How did starting out so young affect your shooting career so far?
A. I was quite young to start out with. When you are younger you have no fears. I went in with the attitude of getting in there and doing the absolute best I can. I distinctly remember getting to my first Britain selection shoot and seeing Sian Bruce, Elena Allen and all the other shooters in the team – I told myself that one day I want to be as good as them and there is no doubt it really inspired me to want to go all the way and get to the Olympic Games.
Q. How was it for you after you won your very first World Cup so young?
A. It was huge. I hadn’t really done too much training in the Olympic Skeet discipline, and I soon learnt that it’s impossible to win every single competition. It came back to basics, working with my coach Joe Neville to try and get my technique right – it may have worked out at that competition but I knew that I would never be consistent, so we stripped it all back working lots on my stance, how exactly I mounted the gun to how I moved – and it’s now paying back. I am much more consistent and the focus on the detail has definitely improved how I performed in the finals as well as qualifying rounds.
Q. How does it feel to have a cartridge with your name on it – it’s pretty unique in the shooting world?
A. It’s definitely something. Some people may like them and some people may hate the colour but I know that they are fun cartridge to shoot. While they have a fun aspect to them, the cartridges are really good quality: they are soft on the shoulder, which is a real bonus for the Lady shooter, but they break clays better than any other brand out there so they are definitely one for people to try out on the range.
Eley Hawk and I spent time developing the cartridge and I have spent a lot of time out on the range shooting them and they got me all the way to the final of my first Olympic Games. At this level you are always looking for that one little edge that will get the one extra clay br
oken and Eley Hawk has made all the difference between winning and losing.
Q. What do the next four years hold for you?
Q. It’s going to be a busy leading up to Tokyo but for me, taking it step by step for the first half of 2017, I will be getting back into my training. I might make a few changes with my gun and try the new Perazzi High Tech, which I am really excited about, and then we have my first World Cup back in Acapulco – back where I first started out. I am really excited that it’s like doing the last four years all over again but this time with that experience in mind, making some changes but the only result I am now focused on is how I am going to make it happen in the 2020 Olympics.
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Clay Shooting magazine. For more great content like this, subscribe today at our secure online store www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk