Seonaid McIntosh had to overcome an identity crisis to get back on top of the shooting world.
Now 27, the Edinburgh shooter has put two difficult years behind her to rediscover her best form in 2023, to the point that she is now top of the world rankings.
McIntosh set a new world record in the 50m rifle 3 positions event in Baku last month and has also earned a quota place for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
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That will come three years after her Olympic debut in Tokyo, in which she missed out on the finals in both the 10m air rifle and the 50m rifle 3 positions.
There was disappointment at the time, but with two years to reflect, McIntosh now understands the mental toll that those Games, as well as the Covid pandemic, had taken on her.
She explained: “I think I didn’t realise how much weight had been put on (mentally) until after the fact. I think I just got more and more stressed. It wasn’t necessarily stressed outwardly, but I was getting more anxious and stressed and a wee bit of depression as well. I didn’t realise until after the fact when I tried to go back to normal and it was suddenly ‘I’m not back to normal’. Trying to fit that me into a normal setting was a case of a square peg and a round hole.
“That is the point at which I realised I wasn’t ok. I realised that I didn’t have much confidence in my shooting and I was trying my best to get that back but again, I think that was something I grabbed onto as something I could focus on in an effort to ignore everything else that was going on. I don’t think I realised how much pressure there was added on because of that until much later.
“I spoke to a couple of therapists that I got referred to through my sports psychologist. I chatted to them and it was really about trusting in myself and learning how to do that again, which did help. Over time, I got myself back to myself.
“To begin with, I guess it was a bit of an identity crisis, I wasn’t sure who I was, especially because I had that confidence piece, I had the confidence in my shooting, I had this mojo, this piece of magic and that is the thing that lets me shoot as well as I do. The Games and in the aftermath of that, I was asking: ‘Does that exist? Did it ever exist? Is it in my head? Is that real or have I made it up?’.
I really struggled to trust myself and whether it was there or if it was a fabrication. So it took a while to learn that again.”
McIntosh is one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing her to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support – this is vital for her pathway to the Paris 2024 Games, after a tricky few years following Tokyo.
A succession of illnesses in 2022 did not help that healing process, with McIntosh admitting that by trying to push through each ailment, she did not give her body the necessary time to recover.
She has changed that this year, to great effect, having already won World Cup titles in Cairo and Baku, the former helping her to the top of the world rankings in the air rifle.
Cutting back on part-time jobs, which would build up whenever she was away competing, has also helped, as has meeting boyfriend Grant at the end of last year.
Explaining what she has changed, McIntosh said: “I’ve had a bit more focus on me, it sounds really obvious. I’ve had more focus on trying to rest and heal, physically and mentally. I spent quite a lot of last year just trying to push through and hoping it would go away. I don’t think that often works.
“I’ve been describing this year as the ‘year of health’, getting better and getting well. I also met my boyfriend back in December, and he has had a huge part to play in me feeling better in general. He has really inspired me to be better and be my best self. He’s played a big role.”
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