British shooting star Amber Hill says sacrificing her teenage years in the pursuit of sporting glory will all prove worthwhile as she prepares to defend her European Games gold medal in Minsk next month.
Hill is the sole defending champion named in the 101-strong Great Britain squad for the Games, which marks only the second time, after the inaugural event in Baku in 2015, that women have outnumbered men for a senior, multi-sport event.
Commonwealth Games silver medallist Hill, 21, literally shot to fame when she won a World Cup event at the age of just 15 in 2013, and her victory in Baku after a 30-clay shoot-off against Italy’s Diana Bacosi ranks as one of her subsequent highlights.
Come meet the team!
We've announced the athletes selected to represent Team GB🇬🇧 at the European Games @Minsk2019BY.
— Team GB (@TeamGB) May 21, 2019
Boasting sponsorship from a lingerie firm and bespoke bright pink gun cartridges, Hill has succeeded in attracting a new demographic to her sport but insists she has managed to hold most potential distractions at bay.
Hill told Press Association Sport: “When I went out and won my first World Cup at the age of 15 I thought I’d mastered it and everything was going to be so easy.
“Of course it wasn’t like that and when I lost competitions in those days it felt like the end of the world. I’ve realised now that I’m still learning and the most important thing is to find the right balance.
“I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices, like not being able to go out with my friends and have a normal social life. But I’m still only 21 and no social event could make up for the feeling of competing and making your country proud.”
Hill, who reached the skeet final in Rio but did not medal, has an additional incentive in Minsk, where the shooting competition enables athletes to qualify quota places for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“I’m excited to be going back to a European Games,” added Hill. “I had a great time in Baku and I feel like I’ve grown up so much since then. It’s a great opportunity to help the team and qualify that quota place for Tokyo.”
As well as shooting, archery and table tennis will also offer direct quota qualification for Tokyo, while judo, badminton and men’s boxing events will double as each sport’s respective European Championships.
Olympic champion Jason Kenny will compete in the Games’ first track cycling event, but some other major sports, such as swimming and rowing, are notable by their absence. The athletics event will consist of a low-level team competition.
Great Britain chef de mission Paul Ford said: “Minsk 2019 provides an important pathway towards Tokyo 2020 for sports.
“With automatic qualification of quota places for some, ranking points for others and three continental championships for sports, you can see why Team GB has such a strong delegation going to the Games.”
Since its inauguration in 2015, the European Games has endured a turbulent history as it has struggled to find a place on the international sporting calendar.
Human rights concerns which dogged the build-up to Baku were hardly eased by the awarding of the second Games to Belarus, which ranks 153rd out of 180 in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index.