Story: Greg Campbell
Katarina Kowplos wasn’t supposed to be going to the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Kowplos, 18, had split Year 12 at Golden Grove High School across two years, she was enjoying working part-time at The Advertiser newspaper in Adelaide, and was aiming to be accepted into an engineering university degree next year.
The 2024 Paris Olympics was her target. Tokyo Olympics? That was supposed to be a TV event where she would happily cheer on the Australian Olympic team.
In reality, Kowplos still had her shooting learner’s plates on at the beginning of the year. In 2018 and 2019, she contested the 10m Air Rifle at Junior World Cup events in Suhl, Germany, and her only international 3 Positions competition was at the Oceania Championship in Sydney last year where she finished 13th as a member of the Australia B team.
But in the space of two events in February and March – the first two 3 Positions rifle Olympic nomination trials – that all quickly changed.
Back to back qualifying scores of 1141 and 1143 points – a personal best performance – saw Kowplos go from an Olympic team outsider to a team selection favourite when she opened a commanding lead on the event nomination scoreboard.
“I was 100 per cent looking towards Paris. I didn’t expect to shoot really well. I just wanted to shoot my best and I was really pleasantly surprised how I competed,” said Kowplos.
“I was trying to keep my excitement (of possible Olympic selection) down because I thought we wouldn’t be having a female 3P shooter for Tokyo. I was excited but was keeping it in,” she said.
She admitted she was shocked when Shooting Australia’s National Rifle Coach, Petr Kurka, telephoned her to notify her of her Olympic team nomination after the four nomination events had concluded.
“I was not expecting it all. I was pretty stunned. I kept it (her excitement) in until after the phone call and I casually went up to my Mum and said, ‘guess I will have to start training for Tokyo’,” she recalled.
Keeping her Olympic selection a secret from friends until the official Australian Olympic Committee announcement was a challenge. Only her mum and dad, Natalie and Steve, and younger sister Isabella knew.
What makes Kowplos’ Olympic selection even more meritorious is that she achieved her results with a borrowed rifle. More often, rifles are custom made to suit the athlete’s personal preferences. Having to adjust to someone else’s rifle makes a precision sport such as shooting even more difficult.
Shooting Australia’s National Talent Coach, Sydney 2000 Olympian, Carrie Quigley, located the only available left-handed rifle in Adelaide suitable for 3 Positions events and Kowplos immediately applied herself to handle the rifle’s characteristics.
“I don’t think I would have been able to shoot 3P without it because it’s such an investment to shoot 3P,” said Kowplos.
But since her selection for the Tokyo Olympics next year, her grandmother Lyn Violi, has assisted her grand-daughter with the purchase of a new rifle.
While the rifle is sitting securely and unused in her gun safe, she is waiting on the delivery of rifle accessories to complete her custom set.
“I’m looking forward to building up my equipment. With my old one, I couldn’t buy butt plates because they’re not transferrable across rifles. Now that I have one, I’m looking forward to building a really big bucket for finals to change over with,” she said.
Her introduction to shooting came via an unusual passage – the Northridge Para Vista Scout Group. “They do a target shooting program. I enjoyed beating scouts that were older than me,” she said with a smile.
When she was not attending jamborees in Maryborough in Queensland or in Cataract Park in NSW, Kowplos would shoot at the SSAA Para Branch range and decided to move to ISSF events in 2015 with the view to hopefully one day win Olympic selection.
While she has limited experience with 3P shooting, the event has quickly become her favourite compared to Air Rifle.
“I think 3P (is my favourite) because a bad shot doesn’t necessarily mean that your entire match is over. You can shoot a nine or an eight and it is just as likely that another competitor could have shot that shot,” she explained.
For Kowplos, the postponement of the Tokyo Games until next year was a “relief”.
“It gives us a lot more extra time to train, especially since I didn’t expect to be shooting 3P internationally this soon. I’m looking forward to be able to hone my skills with the extra time,” she said.
With support from Kurka, Shooting Australia and the South Australian Institute of Sport, Kowplos will focus the next 14 months on mastering her technique across the three shooting positions, including watching YouTube videos while kneeling, and learning how to keep calm and composed while in the hurly burly of an Olympic competition.
Apart from her part-time job and educational journey, Kowplos will continue to attend scouts, when time permits, and participate in the science fair at the Royal Adelaide Show. “I’ve won the last four years in my age group. It’s good to be able to talk about something you love,” she said.
Kowplos has not set any lofty targets for the Tokyo Games. “I’m looking forward to meeting the other athletes from other competitions and shooting my best on the day,” she said.
However, as she has already demonstrated, she has a habit of exceeding expectations and the Tokyo Olympics may not be an exception.