Shooting for Olympic glory

Jasmine Ser (middle) won gold for Singapore at the Commonwealth Games in India in 2010 (AFP)Jasmine Ser (middle) won gold for Singapore at the Commonwealth Games in India in 2010 (AFP)

In just another few days, Jasmine Ser can lay claim to an achievement that most of her peers can only dream about: Represent Singapore in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

For many, Ser's journey from schoolgirl shooter to being a part of the biggest sporting show on earth is just reward for her hard work.

Since taking up the "unpopular sport" as an co-curricular activity in Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School, Ser has regularly finished among the podium positions in various international and regional competitions.

One of only 11 athletes handpicked for the elite Olympic Pathway Programme, a government initiative launched in 2006 to the tune of S$6.5 million dollars to help the cream of local athletes win medals at the 2012 Olympics, Ser was Singapore's Sportswoman of the Year in 2011 following gold medal performances at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2009 SEA Games.

Backed by that sterling track record, the soft-spoken  21-year-old could be forgiven to think she has more than earned her plane ticket to London.

But far from being a prima donna, the National University of Singapore Business Administration student repeatedly expressed her gratitude at being picked for the Games, when Yahoo! Singapore met her for this interview at the SAFRA Yishun Country Club last month.

"I have to thank the Singapore Sports Council, the Singapore National Olympic Council and the Singapore Shooting Association for choosing me," Ser said.

"I am really thankful for the opportunity and I want to do the best I can in London," she emphasised.

Ser is also enjoying training with her coach, Kirill Ivanov. "Sometimes athletes will have problems with their coaches, I don't, so I'm thankful. If I have any doubt about my training, I can ask him. We trust each other."

The positive relationship between coach and athlete has also led Ser to believe she has "become a better shooter" since the Russian was appointed to the job in February last year. "I am more calm and patient when I'm competing and I also look forward to competitions," She said.

Where the Ser of old will "try to wear the same pair of shooting pants" whenever she is competing, she now has enough confidence in her ability to banish this particular superstition to the past.

Calling herself a more "polished" shooter, she revealed with a giggle, "When I was competing at the London World Cup, the weather was so cold that I had to wear a thicker pair of pants. And I did equally well."

In that competition in April this year, Ser shot 394/400, a score she has since improved to between 396 to 398 in practice.

At the last Olympics in Beijing four years ago, a score of 396 (after a shoot-off) was enough to make the final. This means if Ser maintains her usual standards in London, a spot in the finals on 28 July(this Saturday) is not beyond her.

Yet, when asked if she has set herself any targets, Ser turned non-committal and would only say, "I will try my best."

Whether her best is enough to win her a medal this Saturday remains to be seen. But one thing that is not in doubt is the sacrifice Ser has made in order to pursue her Olympic dream.

"I have no social life. I don't really hang out with my university friends," She proclaimed unapologetically. "I meet them only when I'm back from competitions."

And it has been a year full of such contests.

Before the World Cup in London this year, Ser was practically living out of her suitcase, competing in places as far-flung as Germany and Kuwait in 2011.

Still, Ser bristled when it was suggested that her pursuit of sporting excellence had come at a heavy price.

Shaking her head vehemently, she declared with a maturity beyond her years, "Life is a give-and-take. I can't have the best of both worlds. I may not have what my friends have, but I am glad that I am here today, ready to compete in the Olympics."

Indeed, not even deferring her studies -- a decision supported by her semi-retired parents -- can  derail her from her dreams of showcasing her skills in London.

"I want to enjoy the process of competing, enjoy my Olympic journey and enjoy the experience of coming up against the best shooters in the world," she said.

What about school then? With a smile, she said, "It is better to put it on hold until August when the Olympics are over. In that way, I will do better too."

Despite the sacrifices, Ser is determined to bring more glory to Singapore (Getty)Despite the sacrifices, Ser is determined to bring more glory to Singapore (Getty)