CNC hosts Canada Winter Games test event

She may live in Kamloops, but Leia Hoot considers the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George her hometown Games.

As a member of Team B.C., Hoot, 17, is competing in the 10-metre air rifle target shooting event next month at the 2015 Games.

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She and the rest of the eight-member provincial team were in Prince George on the weekend competing in the Hinterland Gun Match - an official test event for the 2015 Games - on a temporary indoor range at CNC.

The event, hosted by the Prince George Rod and Gun Club, featured 30 athletes from B.C., Alberta and the Yukon.

"I'm glad to compete in Prince George, it's a huge privilege to be here," she said. "We get to shoot on the same targets [at the Canada Games] and get all the information we can. It may give us an advantage [against the other teams] but it will definitely help my mindset and I won't have that stress."

Standing 10 metres away, male and female athletes in the air pistol and air rifle events aim at a bullseye the size of a pin head.

The women fire off 40 shots for a total possible 400 points in 75 minutes during competitions, while the men fire off 60 shots for a 600-point possible score.

The women have 50 minutes to complete their round, while the men have 75 minutes.

Hoot earned a spot on Team B.C. after a final selection camp in December.

Not bad considering she only picked up an air rifle two years ago in what started out as fun on Friday nights at the indoor range in Kamloops.

"There's so many things that I like about it," she said. "There's accuracy, precision. The focus and mental aspect it takes, that's really, really important. The hardest part is getting over a bad shot and moving forward to the next one."

At the 2015 Canada Games, athletes will use an electronic target system - the Megalink Target System - that was brought to Prince George on the weekend courtesy of the Alberta Handgun Association in Calgary.

After they fire a shot, athletes can look at a computer screen on a table below them and see how precise their shot was prior to taking aim again.

The weekend was the first time the system made an appearance in B.C.

"The athletes love it," said Karl Schulze of the Alberta Handgun Association. "The scoring is more accurate and it's less prone to error. You can come off the line and get your scoring sheets and get a print-out of all your shots. For training purposes, it's very useful. It's the kind of equipment that's used to shoot internationally."

The selection process for Team B.C.'s Canada Games target shooting squad began in May 2013 with a pool of 14 athletes vying for eight positions.

Two men and two women were selected in each of the men's and women's air rifle and air pistol categories.

In November, the first trials occurred and three shooters didn't make the cut. The remainder advanced to a three-day event Dec. 12-14 in Parksville where the top-three scores from five matches were taken.

The end result is Team B.C. is comprised of three athletes from Langley, two from Delta, two from Kamloops (including Hoot) and one from Merritt.

The youngest, said Team B.C. head coach Trevor Mack, is 12, while the oldest is 18.

"They all come from different backgrounds and it's a young team," he said. "They just haven't been shooting for very long. But we've seen a huge improvement in the last couple of years.

"The key is to be patient," he said. "You have to be able to process the information into an instant result. You have to be sharp enough to take that information and process it. The target is telling you a story of what happened."

Mack, who lives in Terrace, is a two-time Canada Winter Games target shooting athlete. He competed in 1995 in Grande Prairie and in 1999 in Corner Brook, Nfld. As a member of Team B.C., he won the bronze medal in the team event in 1999 and finished fourth individually.

As a former athlete, he knows what it takes to succeed at the Canada Games.

Unlike the team he oversees that will compete in Prince George, he never did have the chance to compete in a national event in his home province.

Competing in a test event such as the Hinterland Air Gun Match with the 2015 Games less than a month away is beneficial for the athletes, he said.

"It's huge to be able to come and see the venue and where everything is going to be," he said. "We've seen where we're going to stay, eat and compete and we'll tour Prince George. We'll come back for the Games and it will be normal. Nothing will be a surprise.

"I'm telling them to enjoy it. I never got to experience a home province Games. To have home-field advantage is huge. It's something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

His wife Cari is a double-gold target shooting medallist from the 1991 and 1995 Canada Winter Games.

At the 2015 Games, the target shooting athletes will step up to the line at CNC Feb. 16-19.

Target shooting has been an Olympic sport since 1896.

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