Bracknell's shooting star Amber Hill on her sensational year
PUBLISHED: 11:31 14 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:33 14 March 2014
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Bracknell's Amber Hill looks back on a sensational year and tells Jessica Phillipson her plans for the future, including changing the face of target shooting
Amber Hill is the future of target shooting and, as you talk to her, you realise what a bright future that is. As she puts it: “The sport is normally seen as older people in the countryside, but I don’t see why it can’t become a sport for all ages and for girls and boys. I’m 16, I’m a girl and I’ve got as far as I have. I think anyone can do it really.”
Amber’s commitment to the sport extends beyond her own ambition. She seems to possess a true desire to promote target shooting to a wider audience, but remains acutely aware of the challenges facing it.
“Shooting can get bad publicity because it involves guns but I think that, as people start to achieve and get more recognition for their accomplishments, that bad image won’t exist any more. Even from the BBC award (Young Sports Personality of the Year), people are realising it’s not just guns, there’s a lot of discipline to it. It’s not just shooting animals, it is a skilled sport that can be done to Olympic level. Some people’s views need to change.”
A year to remember
The BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year Award is given to particularly notable young sportspeople aged 17 or under. Previous winners include footballer Wayne Rooney, diver Tom Daley and tennis player Andy Murray. As of 2013, Amber can add her own name to that impressive list.
“It was incredible. I never would have thought in a million years I would become BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in my first year of competing. To win was a great way to finish the year,” she says.
And what an impressive year it was. Amber set a new world record in 2013 by winning the Senior World Cup at just 15 years old and managed to equal a world record in Peru. She finished the season ranked number one Senior in Great Britain and number five in the world.
This attention has certainly changed her life: “I’ve liked the whole experience as it’s nice to get noticed, not just for me, but also for the sport.”
Amber seems proud of her achievements but mindful that she has the chance to promote target shooting – often funnelling attention away from herself towards the sport. The opportunity to bring her sport to a wider audience seems to be one of the main benefits Amber sees in her success.
“People don’t know enough about it and a lot of people don’t get the chance to give it a go. If someone had told me before I started that I’d be a shooter, I would have laughed. I tried all the traditional sports like gymnastics, hockey and netball, but there was something about shooting that I really enjoyed. It’s nice to do something a little bit different.
“By winning BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year, I feel like I can help the sport. If eight million people were watching that and realising what can be achieved, I might change the perception of target shooting and earn it more recognition among people of all ages.
“In Olympic Skeet, there are a lot more younger people when you start competing in other countries. I like the difference between shooting here and internationally. You see how seriously it’s taken in other countries and it’s nice to be competing against that.”
Amber started shooting at a young age with her grandfather and began entering competitions about a year later. It wasn’t long before she realised she wanted to get serious: “When I first started I had a few lessons with different people to get the basics in Sporting. When I made the switch to Olympic Skeet, I knew if I were going to take this seriously I’d need a coach. About two years ago, I went and saw Joe Neville and from then on he’s taught me everything I know.”
Since then, Amber has embarked on an impressive career – she already has difficulty choosing her highlights. “It’s hard to pick out certain bits of such a great year!” she laughs.
“Going to Acapulco and winning gold at my first World Cup was incredible. I hadn’t expected to make the top six, let alone win. Going to Peru and equalling the world record was another highlight. It’s definitely pushed me on. There’s no greater feeling than success. I just want to keep going.”
Despite constantly finding herself in different shooting environments, Amber has no problem staying calm when she steps up to the stand: “My family say I’m chilled out and not much worries me at home. Calm is just in me, I suppose. I listen to a bit of music. I have my shooting routine where I make sure my hat, glasses, everything feels comfortable and visualise the targets before I go on. Psychologically, I just block everything out. You can’t worry about what’s going on around you.”
It’s refreshing to talk to a sportsperson with such a simple and unpretentious approach to performance. She is not without some quirky habits though: “I don’t know why I do it, but when I shout “Pull!” I always blink – which can be a bad thing, but it hasn’t affected me this year!”
And after the competition? “I talk to my whole family. They always come with me and support me. Between competitions, I try and take it easy!”
I get the impression that Amber is an easygoing person – seemingly taking success in her stride. Surrounding herself with a group of supportive friends certainly seems to have kept Amber grounded. “My friends are amazing about it. They’re always texting me asking what’s going on and where’s the next competition. I try to see them as much as I can, especially during off-season, but I like to keep sport separate from friends to a point.”
It is easy to forget that behind the world-class shooting ability, Amber is just an ordinary teenager. Browsing her Twitter feed, you find pictures of her clutching awards alongside more everyday tweets such as “Anchorman 2 was so good”. But her success is not without some personal cost. “I’ve had to sacrifice going to parties and things like that, but you’ve got to be willing to do that to get to the highest level. Obviously I make time for friends, but in the long run my goal is to get to Rio 2016 and I’m willing to sacrifice things to get there.”
Rio never seems to be too far away from Amber’s thoughts and she enjoys the advantage of attempting the Olympics at a young age: “The good thing about starting young is that by the time Rio 2016 arrives, I’ll have had five years training. But I’ve got plenty of time even if I don’t make that one to make the next one, wherever it is!”
For now, Amber is enjoying a busier than expected off-season. “I finished school in August and thought I’d have a break and train more through the winter, but it hasn’t really happened with the BBC YSPOTY Award and a SportsAid Award!” she says. With school finished, she will also have time to pursue other interests: “I need something outside of shooting, so I thought I might go on a beauty course as it’s something I would have got into if I hadn’t had shooting.
“Mainly, I really hope that I’m able to compete in the Rio 2016 Olympics. That’s the dream.”
Such ambition can only be a good thing for the target shooting world since, while Amber’s achievements continue to capture the public’s imagination, the sport continues to enjoy attention for all the right reasons.