Chao knows she must stay focused

ALISON KORN -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:13 AM ET

In less than 100 days, Toronto's Avianna Chao will return to her birth country of China -- not for a nostalgia trip, but to compete at the Beijing Summer Olympics.

There's a big difference between those two types of travel, as Chao knows all too well. At a recent trip to Beijing for a test event, Canada's top sport pistol shooter found herself mentally distracted by the excitement and pressure of competing in front of so many friends and family. She already has spent $1,600 on tickets for her Chinese cheering section -- but now is putting her foot down to focus on herself.

HAS A PLAN

"My plan is I arrive, I go in to the Village, I do my thing," Chao said. "I'm there for a reason, to do a job and to do my best. After my events are done, that's when I plan to go see my family members and visit a bit of China, to see people who can't get to Beijing."

Chao is one of eight Canadian Olympic team members born in China. The others are swimming's Victoria Poon, fencing's Jujie Luan, and table tennis players Zhu Judy Long, Qiang Shen, Chris Xu, Mo Zhang and Peng Zhang.

Chao's familiarity with China -- she immigrated to Toronto when she was 11 -- is both an advantage and a potential source of distraction as she competes in her first Olympics. She revels in being able to speak Mandarin, and got a joyful reaction from Games volunteers when she talked to them in their language at the test event. And she's happy to help fellow athletes with a bit of translation. But even that has its limits.

"At one point I was even grabbed by some other team to help them translate," Chao said. "Again, that's something I learned. I was glad to help some people in the right circumstance, but I have to remain focused on what I have to do."

Chao is a true amateur, working full time as a computer engineer in downtown Toronto at OANDA by day, and training in the early mornings and evenings. It's a technology company whose main product is an online foreign exchange platform called FXTrade.

"The company has been incredibly supportive, allowing me a very flexible schedule," Chao said. "I arrive late, I leave late. Everything I do is downtown to conserve time."

She competes in both of the women's pistol events: The 10-metre air pistol (where the target is the size of a dime), and the 25-metre sport pistol (with a saucer-sized target).

"Our sport demands so much fine motor control and perfect balance," Chao explained. "And mental calmness to be able to hit the target. It's very hard."

Chao first got involved with shooting in 2001 to support her fiance, Patrick Haynes, who was trying out for the national team. The roles now are reversed with Haynes supporting her as her coach.

At 32, Chao is less experienced in the sport than her international rivals. She won bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and finished fourth at the 2003 Pan American Games. Last summer, Chao won the women's 10-metre air pistol event at the 2007 Pan Am Games to earn a 2008 Olympic berth -- although she has thought the 2012 Olympics were more realistic.

Growing up in Wuhan in the central part of China, Chao recalls of her childhood that she "wasn't anyone special" and didn't excel in anything.

"It's only after I came to Canada, I was given the opportunity to show what I've got," Chao said. "I entered U of T with a scholarship, and after I graduated I had the opportunity to pick up a sport at the international level. These are all opportunities Canada has given me that I would not have gotten in China."

Chao's hero is her mother, Lien Chao, a poet, anthologist and critic who came to Canada in 1984 with $100 in her pocket and who, through years of hard work and struggles, gave her daughter the support and freedom to achieve her dreams.

"I only have one message for kids," Chao said. "Hold on to your dreams and don't let anyone tell you what you can't do. Don't listen to negative people. Hold on to your dreams and work hard.'


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