The Canadian contingent at the recent Summer Olympics had a Yorkton flavour as Cory Niefer, who grew up here competed in the shooting events for his country.
Niefer said making the team was great, but a moment he could only savour for a short time.
“I think I pursued the Olympic dream for 24-years,” he said last week after returning from London. “Obviously there were a lot of sacrifices.”
So making the team was a dream come true, but Niefer said making the cut wasn’t the end of the dream, it was merely the ticket in.
“It was an extremely inspiring process … absolutely rewarding. It was the icing on the cake,” he said, adding it has become sweeter looking back realizing “I’ve been striving for the goal for so long.
“The feeling was really hard to process to be quite honest. It took some time to sink in.”
Niefer said the path to the Olympics started in Yorkton.
“I owe a lot to Yorkton,” he said, adding his involvement with the local Army Cadets starting his shooting.
Niefer said he came from a family without a lot of extra money for youth sports, so belonging to cadets was an avenue to the sport for him he might not otherwise have had.
Leo Nijssen also garnered praise from Niefer, as his first shooting coach with cadets in Yorkton.
“It was him who really saw my ability,” he said, adding his coach encouraged him to pursue shooting even at a time he might have been looking elsewhere.
“And the cadet program helped me develop the discipline to train and do all the things I’ve needed to do,” he said.
The time from selection to the actual Olympics was a busy one, because making the team meant more hours of practice and preparation for the actual event.
“The Olympics came with a lot more than a normal competition for me,” he said, adding as a Canadian shooter he usually competes under the radar. In London the media focus was on every competitor, and with such scrutiny comes more expectations and hopes and a swirl of event-related things going on.
“There were a lot more distractions.” he said.
Niefer said the distractions meant added effort on the part of athletes to stay on course to what they were in London to do, compete.
“It’s trying to keep yourself focused,” he said, adding it is easy to get distracted by the larger Olympic event. “ … You have to make sure you do all the little things to get ready.”
Once to the actual shooting venue, Niefer said he was able to get back into the mindset of simply competing as he has hundreds of times before.
“To be quite honest I’ve done so many major games and events, it helped,” he said, adding “I was still amazed how comfortable I felt in the actual environment of the shooting range,” he said, adding he was able to avoid the awe factor of it being the Olympics.
Niefer said once at the range he was able “to get back to sort of the norm,” to get back into the rhythm of competition.
While feeling comfortable, Niefer said he didn’t feel particularly comfortable regarding his primary event 10-metre air rifle He said in warm-up competitions in Europe leading up to the Olympics things had not gone as he had hoped.
“I knew something was a little bit off,” he said.
And the issue trailed him to the Olympic range where he finished near the bottom of the standings at 46th.
“Sometimes a bad day comes at a bad time,” he said in retrospect, adding “I’d love to go back and have another chance.”
Niefer said he did manage some personal redemption four days later in the 50-metre prone event.
“I knew my gun wasn’t as good as some competitors on the line,” he said, but added he managed an international personal best in the event (finishing 38th).
While money might not be everything in terms of success at the Olympics, it helps, admitted Niefer.
“Funding for summer sports was not quite what it was for Vancouver (when that city hosted the Winter Olympics),” he said. “We were competing against the multi-million dollar programs.”
But it goes farther too, said Niefer, noting in terms of shooting the competition level is simply so deep. He said if you look at hockey there are maybe 20 countries with solid programs, and probably half of that series threats to win Olympic medals.
Niefer said in air rifle, there are competitors from 150 countries who can be competitive at an international event and only some 30 countries even get to send shooters to the Olympics.
Niefer said it is really only now, after returning, he is able to put what he accomplished in some sort of perspective.
“So much sacrifice went into this process,” he said.
But it was worth it.
Niefer said he estimates less than 4000 Canadians have had the Olympic experience, and he is one of those.
“For me that’s pretty amazing, to have been part of that,” he said, adding the Olympics were the highlight “of having the best international day of my life.”
It is not only his sacrifice, but that of his wife too.
So when asked if he will try again for the 2016 Games, he is as yet undecided.
Niefer said he has naturally been asked the question by many, but said the answer will take some time to formulate.
“Now I have two girls, so things change,” he said, noting he’ll need to discuss his future with his family and coaches before making the final decision.
But then Niefer hints that he wants to try again.
“I believe in the Olympics, not just being an Olympian,” he said.