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UP clay shooter aims to clinch international glory

Steyn will be participating in the British Open, the European Open and the 15th International Clay Target Shooting Federation’s World Down-the-Line Championship.

A University of Pretoria (UP) clay target shooter sets his sights on international victory.

Christiaan Steyn (21), a third-year law student, will be representing South Africa in clay target shooting in the town of Morpeth in Northumberland, England.

Steyn will be participating in the British Open, the European Open and the 15th International Clay Target Shooting Federation’s World Down-the-Line Championship.

Steyn won the Junior British Open title in July 2022 in Northern Ireland, where he “shot an almost perfect score”.

“It would be lovely to win the whole world competition, but at this stage, I would be content with winning the Junior World Championship,” says Steyn, who has a final chance of competing as a junior.

Steyn has one clear goal in mind.

“I’m aiming to win the Junior World Championship,” he says without hesitation.

What makes Steyn’s achievements even more remarkable is that he trains only once or twice a month, not out of laziness, but because it is too expensive otherwise.

Steyn needs to shoot about 150 rounds at each practice which, with the cost of ammunition and range fees, comes to about R3 000 a session.

Even more remarkably, he has never had a coach.

“I was only influenced and nudged into a certain direction. But most of the talent and skill I got was from practising – through trial and error, and seeing what works for you as an individual shooter. Not everybody wants to be coached and not everybody wants to coach,” he says.

This, among other things, makes him the outlier.

“It’s hard to compete on the same level as the other competitors, who have sponsors and whose countries support them so much – their plane tickets, ammunition, accommodation and food are paid for,” he says.

He says other competitors travel with sports psychologists and physios.

“When it comes to the South African team, it’s just the shooters. My dad can’t come with me this year because it is too expensive. That’s really one of the big problems with this sport: you need money to compete at a high level.”

He first came across clay target shooting in primary school, when a relative invited his dad, his older brother, and him to shoot at the Wattlespring Sports Club in Babsfontein, which is still his range of choice.

His parents felt he was too young to take part, so he just watched that first day. According to him, his brother, however, was a natural and is now a five-times Protea in the sport.

Steyn started clay target shooting in Grade 8 and immediately shone. Soon trapshooting took priority over rugby and swimming. He also competed at Helpmekaar College in Johannesburg.

He is now a three-time Protea champ – even though he had to wait a while for that honour the first time he qualified when the Covid-19 pandemic prevented him from travelling overseas to formally clinch the accolade.

Steyn takes his success in his stride.

“We go to the Free State and spend weekends on my grandparent’s farm there. So we have always been around guns, and shooting and hunting.”

He explains how clay target shooting is an umbrella term for different variations of the sport, including the one he takes part in, which is trapshooting, specifically down-the-line trapping.

“Basically, one station throws the clays in front of you, and you shoot that station from five possible stands. Each stand shoots at the clays from a different angle. The clays are thrown in three different directions: one at a left angle, one at a right angle and one straight.”

Clay shooting has enriched his life. A cursory look at his Facebook page shows the number of people he has met from around the world.

“I’m not an extroverted person, so this has helped me a lot with meeting new people and seeing the world, which I’m thankful for. And I’m very thankful for my parents – even though it’s hard for them financially, they still sponsor me and pay for everything.”

Steyn loves studying at UP, with the only drawback being that it is a four-hour drive to his family in the Free State. But he will be visiting them before he leaves for the UK, as well as spending time with his girlfriend. They have been together since Grade 11.

After the competitions, he plans to focus all his energy on preparing to qualify for an Olympic title. Clay shooting in the Olympics is slightly different.

“You have 15 machines in front of you covered in a trench, so you don’t see them,” he explains.

“There are three machines in front of each stand, and they are thrown at a much quicker pace than what I’m shooting now.”

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