Rapid fire. Rapid learning curve. Rapid rise.
Sam Gowin is a fast learner on the fast track to international success.
And whether or not one of Great Britain’s finest marksmen makes it to Tokyo this year there’s simply no stopping one of shooting’s rising stars.
“Tokyo isn’t completely out of reach,” explained Sam, who joined the Army’s innovative Troops To Target programme, supported by TASS, in November 2016. “I’ve only been focusing on Rapid Fire for three years so it was always going to be a big ask.”
That Sam came within millimetres of booking his place on the plan to Japan, on the back of a brilliant first day performance at the 2019 European Championships, is both a source of pride and frustration.
“I went there full of confidence,” he added. “From the middle of 2019 I started to feel like a genuine world class athlete – in terms of where I was training, the company I was keeping and the results I was getting.
“I felt I was in a position where I could deliver my best performance when it was needed. I headed to Italy for the Europeans in great shape and after the first day I found myself in fifth position.
“That meant I was seeded in the top group on the second day and I was competing alongside some of the best in the world. I was shooting against Olympic champions but I didn’t feel too much pressure – I just saw it as more experience.”
Ultimately that experience proved tough to take.
Blighted by poor light towards the end of day two, Sam struggled to find his range. Required to take five shots in four seconds – a key element of an exacting discipline – the 30-year-old Army sergeant fell agonisingly short.
“I shot a little too low and at that level the margin for error is tiny,” he explained. “I slipped from fourth to 15th and missed out on an automatic qualifying place for Tokyo 2020.
“On reflection, it was still a good overall performance. It was the first time I’ve been seeded in the top group going into the second day. But it felt like a bit of a kick in a teeth when I’d come so close to Tokyo.
“In reality I’ve only been doing sports shooting for three years and I don’t think anyone expected me to reach the Olympics in my first cycle. But the fact that I came so close still hurts.
“You can’t help it – that’s sport. But I was really kicking myself. The only way to respond was to train harder, get back to basics and start again. That’s what I did leading up to Christmas and over the festive period.”
Sam competed in Pilsen, in the Czech Republic, this month and will travel to India in March for a World Cup event. May is his last chance to make Tokyo with one Olympic qualifying place up for grabs at a competition guaranteed to send an additional shooter to Japan.
It’s a long shot. Or, in Sam’s case, his only shot.
“Theoretically there is a place available through the world rankings too,” he added. “But as I started this cycle later than everyone else there are seven athletes ahead of me. I never say never but even I don’t think there’s enough time to close that gap!”
At 30 Sam still has time on his side. And he believes he’s in the best possible place to achieve his goals.
“I have a special posting within the Army which essentially means I can shoot full-time,” he explained. “Effectively I’m a sponsored athlete. It allows me to train and compete abroad and become the best shooter I can be.
“The Army set-up is absolutely brilliant. For shooting in the UK – all the way up from grassroots to GB – Troops To Target is, by far, the best programme available. The level of support that you get is phenomenal.”
Access to TASS practitioners is included in a wide-ranging support package. And Sam revealed he is in regular contact with a team of experts seeking to give the Army’s elite athletes an extra edge.
“The TASS hub at Aldershot is a big part of that fantastic support that I receive,” he added. “I work really hard with the various practitioners and make the most of their advice and expertise.
“There’s S&C, physio, nutrition and psychological support – all of those areas are so important to what I do. I’ve worked a lot with Michael Knott, one of the TASS practitioners who’s an S&C specialist, and he’s such a clever man.
“He really understands sport and how the body works. He’s helped me with my core stability and that, in turn, has helped my reaction times. He has a great outlook on life and he’s so positive – when you speak to him things suddenly appear so simple. He talked to me about approaching my shooting with a new mind process and, following that chat, my air pistol results improved significantly.
“I also get a huge amount of support through TASS from Jo Davies. She’s my sports psychologist and actually works with me on the range – talking to me during my training. That’s a huge benefit. She’s going to be joining me at competitions this year too.
“Physio-wise I’ve also benefitted from the TASS support. I was training so much that I had built up a bit too much muscle in certain areas and it was putting pressure on other parts of my body. I got a niggle in my elbow and thanks to the work I did with the physio at the TASS hub I was able to nip that in the bud before it got worse.”
Sam leaves no stone unturned in his ongoing bid to be the best. And his thirst for competition knows no bounds.
“I always enjoyed taking part in the Army service competitions in the rifle and pistol events,” he added. “I was always the top Army pistol shooter. But as far as competitive shooting is concerned the Army is only a small part of the bigger picture.
“I wanted to see how far I could go in the real world. The Army Team Coach Mick Brown asked me a couple of times if I wanted to join the Troops To Target programme – the first time I turned down the chance as I wanted to focus on my career as a soldier.
“But at the beginning of 2016 he asked me again and this time I said ‘yes’. One of my old sergeant majors had turned down a similar opportunity to become a world class skier many years ago and had regretted it ever since. He suggested I took my chance.
“I joined Troops To Target in November 2016 and I started with the air pistol. It’s a basic but very technical pursuit and prepared me for the precision required to compete in sports shooting. Six weeks after joining the programme I went to my first competition and smashed it – I’ve never shot so well since!”