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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Interview by Melissa Reynolds ]

Interview by Melissa Reynolds

Heading for Olympic glory?

Cyprus’ shooting team will have a woman on board this summer as they head for Beijing

Traditionalists might claim that shooting is no job for a lady, but Olympic Skeet hotshot Andri Eleftheriou has never shied from flouting convention in pursuit of a sport for which she has an almost fanatical affection. Even with a teaching degree under her belt, 23-year-old Andri, unlike many of her generation, has opted for a far less secure occupational path and one she freely admits is laden with pitfalls and uncertainty.

Andri’s love of shooting grew as a result of regular childhood trips to a small range managed by her uncle on the outskirts of Limassol. “My father would take me there to help him, nothing more, there was no shooting. I was like a boy, I liked extreme sports very much. I saw the men who thought that they were the men and the women were like this,” she says, gesturing to the floor, “I didn’t like this even when I was a child. When I started shooting many men were laughing because I was so small but when I beat some of them they started to respect me. I wanted to prove that women can do many things and shooting is not just a man’s sport,” she emphasises.

The demands of a professional sports career necessitate an often Spartan existence so shotgun toting Andri has turned her back on parties and socialising. Instead, she spends the majority of her time practicing at the Limassol shooting range combined with arduous daily gym sessions to realise the dream she has had since picking up a gun for the first time at the age of ten. “Shooting is my biggest interest right now, I shoot six days a week,” she says. “We work hard and OK this keeps us away from our family, our friends and our nights of fun but we like this, we like what we do. I don’t miss anything really. I think that I will have time after training and competition to enjoy anything I want,” Andri explains, admitting there is one thing she craves above social activity, “After hard training the only thing I miss is going to sleep,” she says with a smile.

When she is enjoying some rare time off from shooting Andri confesses that her interests are rather more laid back than those favoured by many of her peer group, “I like to search the internet and chat with my friends but I don’t like clubs and places with a lot of noise. That’s why I prefer to stay home and invite my friends over to watch DVDs, to talk or play Tavli or cards. This is how I relax and I enjoy it.”

This year will provide Andri with the toughest challenge of her career as she prepares to take her first steps on the Olympic stage to compete alongside seasoned teammates, shooting legend Antonis Nicolaides and World Champion George Achilleos. “It’s my first Olympics and everybody says ‘Are you afraid?’ No, I’m not afraid, I’m very excited and I’m happy because I achieved my participation through hard work. I think I have a big chance; I know the level of the other shooters and many times I have fought against them and won medals. I will try to be the best and not afraid when I see them there,” she says.

Andri qualified for her Beijing place at the ISSF World Cup in Suhl, Germany in June 2006, her success hard on the heels of Commonwealth medal glory when she took gold and silver in the women’s singles and pairs in January of the same year. In terms of personal satisfaction, the Suhl medal is vindication of her ability to succeed regardless of the odds stacked against her, “The Olympic qualification was the big success for me because I really fought hard against the Russian shooter Svetlana Demina, who is one of the best. It was cold and I remember at that moment that everything was terrible; I said to my coach ‘I can’t’ but I proved that I could make it in any situation,” she says.

After a disappointing 2007 season, critics among the island’s shooting fraternity questioned Andri’s ability to represent Cyprus in Beijing, “I was fighting to keep this in my hands, this qualification that I took and I was afraid that they would take this. Last year I was asking ‘Am I going or not?” she says, adding that the stressful situation simply enhanced her resolve to vindicate her hard fought position. “Unfortunately 2007 was not my year. I hope this year I will be top again. I just have to prove that to them now.”

What is remarkable about this athlete is a confessed fear of flying and performing in front of crowds, anxieties she has fought hard to overcome to enable her to compete in championships across the world. “Believe me, I don’t enjoy flying, if I could walk to the China Olympics I would do, it’s just that I must fly; it’s work. I always ask my coach to sit next to me on the plane so I am less afraid; he speaks to me and calms me down until we arrive.”

Andri will once again battle her fears with a flight to Beijing this month for the opening of the World Cup season - one which she dreams will begin and end with victory in the Chinese city. For those of us who feel distinctly uncomfortable in the presence of guns, she leaves us with a most compelling argument in defence of the sport, “Shooting makes me happy. I forget all my problems and all my thoughts. I see small flying clay targets as my enemies; it makes me feel excellent when I shoot them and see them disappear.”




Page 2 of 2 / Seven Magazine
©Melissa Reynolds, March 2008

(Source: Cyprus Mail)

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