ZHANG Shan: The only female shooter to win gold in a mixed competition

The Olympic Games are full of champions, records, and stories, but they’re also an incredible encyclopedia of strange, funny, emotional, and sad moments. We’ll dig some out every week to put a smile on your face or a tear in your eye. This week, Tokyo 2020 are looking back at this female Olympic shooting champion who outshot the men

4 min
(Picture by 2012 Getty Images)

The Background

Skeet is one of the three major competitive clay pigeon shooting disciplines, the others being trap shooting and sporting clays. It was first included on the Olympic programme at Mexico City 1968, and from then until Barcelona 1992 it was a mixed event open to both men and women.

Today’s protagonist is the shotgun skeet shooter, ZHANG Shan who was born in the Sichuan Province of People’s Republic of China. Zhang caused a sensation at Barcelona 1992 by becoming the first woman to win a mixed shooting event in Olympic history.

She first picked up a shotgun at age 16, and immediately fell in love with it. After a little more than half a year of training, Zhang was already considered one of the greatest skeet shooters in the nation. Her coach was extremely pleased to have discovered such a talent.

And that didn’t go to waste. In 1989, Zhang won the Shotgun World Championship titles in both the single and team skeet events.

The 21-year-old’s star had begun to rise.

The Key Moment

Zhang’s really shot to fame at Barcelona 1992, during the last skeet event open to both males and females. Sixty shooters participated in the event, with only seven of them female.

In the qualification round, Zhang hit all 150 targets and became the only female shooter to advance to the 24-strong semi-final.

In the semi-final she repeated her perfect score by hitting 200 targets. Her brilliant performance saw her break the Olympic record and equal the world record mark.

Looking back on that incredible showing two years later, Zhang had this to say to CCTV: “At that time, I was no longer me, just like a machine running freely according to its preset programme.”

Six shooters fought for medals in the final round. Feeling fatigue and a high level of pressure, Zhang’s accuracy decreased. But although she did miss two targets, none of the male competitors could catch her. She won the gold medal with a score of 223, becoming the first and last female shooter to win the Olympic mixed shotgun skeet event in history.

During the medal ceremony, Zhang was lifted into the air by the silver and bronze medallists. The precious moment was captured by the legendary Chinese shooter XU Haifeng, who won the first-ever Olympic gold medal for People's Republic of China at Los Angeles 1984.

The Outcome

After the Barcelona Games, the International Shooting Union (which became the ISSF in 1998) barred women from shooting against men. For the next years, the skeet event remained on the Olympic Games programme, but only for male athletes.

As a result, Zhang temporarily retired from shooting and continued her studies at Sichuan University.

However, when the IOC announced the women’s skeet event would be on the Sydney 2000 programme, Zhang began training again. She become the first athlete on the Chinese National Shooting Team to secure a sport at Sydney 2000 by winning the women’s skeet title at the 1998 Cairo Shooting World Cup.

Regrettably, Zhang failed to return to her best form in Sydney, finishing eighth in the qualifying round and missing out on a place in the final.

Four years later, Zhang couldn’t qualify when she took part in the domestic trials for Athens 2004.

Looking back at the disappointments Zhang faced after Barcelona 1992, Zhang said to CCTV: “I love shooting, so I can accept everything that this sport has brought me.”

With history already made and a very happy family, Zhang was able to leave behind her competitive career and live a more relaxed life. But up until 2018, she was still involved in both large and small shooting competitions.

Zhang always enjoyed the process more than the results and, with this mentality, the good results kept coming.

She appeared again in the Shotgun World Championship in 2007, winning the team skeet event and breaking the world record. At the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, the 42-year-old won the team skeet gold medal again.

Her last major competition was the XIII National Games, where she won a silver medal aged 49.

She once jokingly said:

If there is an old lady on the skeet range, it must be me. Skeet shooting has been carved into my life. It may reach the last day of my life. Shooting has changed everything for me.

I love this sport. I don't think I can leave it in my lifetime.

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