Olympic skeet shooter Chloe Tipple has dealt with the sorrow of losing her mum, a very public backlash and a collapse in her confidence to get to Tokyo.
For five months last year, Chloe Tipple couldn’t pick up her gun.
The struggles of athletes coming to terms with the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – and what it meant for their careers, their identity and their purpose – have been widely documented.
But Olympic skeet shooter Tipple has an even bigger weight to carry. Her mum, Betsy – one of her biggest supporters and best friends – suddenly passed away in April 2020 from a brain aneurysm.
The Olympics and shooting couldn’t have been further from her mind as her extremely close-knit unit navigated through their grief and loss together, all in one Covid-19 lockdown bubble at the family farm in Christchurch.
“When you lose someone you love like that, it just puts things in perspective and you dwell on what matters. And at that moment it was family,” 30-year-old Tipple says.
“Shooting meant nothing to me at that stage after losing my mum… your whole world gets tipped upside down. I was just trying to work out what my life was going to look like without her.”
That included shooting, and it was a delicate balancing act for Tipple – not wanting to rush her process of returning with managing the guilt that she wasn’t out there training already.
It wasn’t until September, five months on, that Tipple found herself reaching for her gun and equipment and stepping back onto the range in the Christchurch suburb of Marshland.
Now, when she’s placed in a tough situation, she reminds herself: “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, and this is just a small bump in the road of what Chloe Tipple’s life is. On certain occasions if I’m panicking, I’ve reminded myself I’ve gone through a lot, and nothing compares.”
She’s certainly been through a lot since she became New Zealand Olympian #1355 at the Rio 2016 Olympics, finishing 13th in women’s skeet shooting. She was the first Kiwi female to secure an Olympic quota spot and then represent New Zealand at the Olympics in skeet.
She quickly reconfigured her goals for Tokyo 2020, and has continued to break down barriers ever since.
In 2017, she won New Zealand’s first World Cup medal in women’s skeet, in New Delhi.
“We don’t remember the person whose medalled once, we remember the person whose medalled every time, who can do it consecutively,” Tipple says. She was well on her way to achieving that feat and add more medals to her tally before Covid-19 intervened in March 2020.
There were six opportunities for Tipple to secure her quota spot for Tokyo 2020. She started off the 2019 season “with a hiss and a roar” putting in great scores at the Australian (120 targets successfully shot out of 125) and New Zealand nationals (118/125).
She then headed to Cyprus, where her coach George Archilleos is based, for a week of training in the lead-up to the first World Cup event of the year in Acapulco, Mexico.
“I went over there and had a ‘mare; I absolutely unravelled,” Tipple explains. “There wasn’t a lot of harmony there between me and the coach, we were both going through separate things. We just didn’t see eye-to-eye that trip.”
After shooting personal bests at the start of the year, Tipple couldn’t shoot more than 20/25 in one round, and came home questioning everything that she knew about herself and about shooting.
Then she met up with Ray Everett, an extremely accomplished New Zealand shooter, who took on a coaching and advisory role with Tipple.
“He was absolutely amazing at just making me realise my own ability and my own inner strength, breaking it down and really building up my confidence,” she says.
At the World Cup event in searing Mexican heat, Tipple’s watershed moment in her Olympic qualifying campaign came – but under more trying circumstances. Two days after the tragic events of March 15, 2019, when a terrorist attacked two mosques in her home city, Tipple flew out to Mexico.
Like most New Zealanders, she was experiencing sadness and confusion about the events. But Tipple’s emotions were significantly heightened as her father, David, and her wider family came under intense scrutiny from the media and the public after it was revealed the gunman had purchased firearms from their family store, Gun City, over the previous two years.
“My whole family, my whole everything that I knew and loved was under attack because of the gun business,” Tipple says. “I’m on the plane, I’m flying over to Mexico and the air hostess is asking me what I’m going for and when I said ‘shooting’ she gasped and didn’t know what to say. I felt like I was the bad guy”.
Tipple felt alone, rattled, nervous, unable to sleep or concentrate, over 11,000 kilometres from her support system – hardly ideal conditions for the optimum preparation and circumstances that athletes constantly seek to perform at the peak of their powers.
“I didn’t have my coach, I didn’t have Dad, I didn’t have any support person from New Zealand – I was literally alone,” she says. “I felt as deep in the deep end as I could get.”
Still not being able to sleep ahead of competition day, she managed to claw her way out of a dark hole to be the leader after day one of qualifying with a score of 72/75 – a first-day personal best. She followed that up with a 121/125, also a personal best. In the top six final, Tipple won her second World Cup medal, this time silver.
Against all odds, she’d knocked off her immediate goal – securing a quota spot at the Tokyo Olympics. She also became the first New Zealand shooter to secure an Olympic spot at an international event other than the Oceania championships.
Looking back, it was her mastery in Mexico that revolutionised Tipple’s mindset and approach to her shooting.
“That was a really defining moment for me, especially in the 2019 season, but also in my career,” she says.
“We’ve all been taught with sport that if you get your T’s crossed and your I’s dotted and everything’s perfect the perfect result will come. But it proved you didn’t need to be in the perfect frame of mind, have the perfect amount of night’s sleep, in a perfect spot of wellness to succeed. That was a really big revelation for me”.
Tipple proved her silver in Mexico was no fluke by winning her second Oceania championships title at the end of the year, setting an Oceania record in the process. As she looked to further stamp her mark on the shooting world, a pandemic stopped her in her tracks.
It’s not just on the range where Tipple is looking to leave her legacy. She’s well aware of the privileged position she’s in to do what she does, with the cost of the sport a substantial sticking point that deters shooters from pursuing Olympic goals.
“The tragedy lies with the shift in school shooters changing over to the Olympic discipline, there’s no bridge there,” she says. “When I leave this sport, that’s what I want to grow. It’s a way that New Zealand can send so many more Olympians to the Games.”
She’s also attuned to the significant stigma associated with her chosen sport, which has deepened further since the events of March 2019. Working in the family business, she experiences every day the look of fear that some people have when they walk into the store and see a gun. She would like to sustainably alleviate these concerns in the long term.
“Being brought up in the gun world, it’s easy for me because I’ve been brought up that guns are a tool – we use guns to hunt, we use guns to shoot targets and we shoot guns as a sport. There’s so much more to it than meets the eye, and I would love to bring education to it.”
In the meantime, she has another Olympics to conquer. Tipple gives a simple answer when asked about her goal when she steps out onto the mark at the Asaka Shooting Range on July 25.
While a medal would be nice, she says she’s purely focused on “getting out there and being fully controlled in my shooting, following all my processes and doing everything how I know and want to do and executing my technique to its full extent. When I do that to my best ability, the high results come. What will be will be.”
And rest assured if the result doesn’t go her way, she won’t be rolling out any excuses for her performance.
“I’ve got the best excuse of all – I’ve lost my mum. I could rattle off a number of different excuses that would be relevant to a bad performance but I don’t want to be the one who relies on an excuse.”
One thing you can bet on, Tipple will have the mental skillset and a strong top two inches to call on when the going gets tough in Tokyo.