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Building On Worlds Breakout, Para Shooter YanXiao Gong Heads Into Parapan Am Games With Momentum

by Bob Reinert

YanXiao Gong takes a moment while competing in the mixed P3 mixed 25-meter pistol SH1 qualifier during the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 18, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

Going into the Para shooting world championships two months ago in Lima, Peru, American shooter YanXiao Gong has a sense of what was to come.

“I usually get a general ‘feel’ of my upcoming performance within a time frame as a larger competition approaches,” said the 25-year-old Gong of Malibu, California. “The weeks leading up to the Lima trip, I felt challengingly comfortable.

“I anticipated medals, but obviously the ‘feel’ can never be as precise as knowing what exact color each one would end up being.”

As it turned out, Gong ended up having a hand in all three medals won by Team USA, winning a gold medal and a pair of bronze medals in the pistol events.

His gold medal came in the individual P3 mixed 25-meter pistol SH1, in which he shot an Americas record 26 while earning a 2024 Paralympic quota in the event for Team USA. He also took an individual bronze in the P1 men’s 10-meter air pistol SH1 and a team bronze in the mixed 25-meter pistol SH1 event, where he and U.S. teammates Marco De La Rosa and Michael Tagliapietra shot a combined 1686-34x, another new Americas mark.

The hope is that Gong will carry his podium-ascending “feel” to the 2023 Parapan American Games, which take place Nov. 17-26 in Santiago, Chile. It will be his debut at the event, but he seems to be experiencing no additional pressure.

“As hard and easy as it may sound, I plan to simply do my routine, discard as much ‘performance’ as possible, and enjoy myself in Santiago,” Gong said, via email. “I’m not very acquainted with most of the teams from the Americas.”

Gong acknowledged that flying to Chile may produce some jitters, but he also has a plan for that.

“I start packing many days in advance, as I tend to get a lot of anxiety about traveling and being on the move,” he said. “I usually try to taper down as a competition approaches, going back to my all-time favorite playlists and albums, and I like to start assembling a new one that sets and reflects the moods.”

A lifelong interest in firearms led Gong into the sport.

Before getting into competitive shooting, Gong said one of his passions was collecting historical pieces ranging from World War I to the Cold War era.

After shooting mostly for fun as a kid, he found his way to competitive shooting around 10 years ago after he suffered Surfer’s myelopathy, an over-extension of his back, during the last months of his high school freshman year.

“At the time of the injury, there were only 33 officially reported global cases of this nature, if my memory serves me correctly,” he said. “In the years of running back and forth between home school and therapies, I went to some shooting matches as a leisure.”

YanXiao Gong competes in the mixed 25-meter pistol SH1 qualifying rounds during the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 18, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

One thing led to another, and then one day Gong’s coach, In Kim, called to say he had made the Para national team. Gong headed off to Sydney for his first taste of international competition. He was later chosen to Team USA for Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, where he debuted by placing ninth in 10-meter air pistol SH1, 10th in mixed 25-meter pistol SH1, and 16th in mixed 50-meter pistol SH1.

Looking back, Gong sees lessons learned in Tokyo that he hopes to apply to Paralympic Games Paris 2024.

“I took almost everything too seriously, so tight-alecky every moment during the Games, too much burden on every detail that I tried to perfect,” he recalled. “Each dawn I got up was a dawn of triple-checking and mapping everything for my upcoming performance of that day.”

Gong said that he tends to examine himself as a shooter from a third-person perspective.

“Subconsciously, when I lift the pistol, I tend to tick the boxes of the things to do and not to do,” said Gong, “which throws half of the game out of the window before I even lifted, let alone the enjoyment.”

This seems to be at odds with the personal traits that Gong believes have made him such an outstanding Para shooter.

“I like solitude and being with things I like,” he said. “When I’m with my guns, I feel generally much, much more laid-back. It becomes a cycle and encourages me spending more time and sentiments with them.”

Gong is reluctant to advise the next generation of Para shooters hoping to replicate his early success.

“I do not think I’m a good textbook model in the path for the things I accomplished,” Gong said. “Even on a daily training level in shooting itself, I find many things I’m doing are very offset to most every other very great shooter I know around me.

“The only sane advice I can supply as of now is consistency, which I myself lack most of the time.”
Gong has started his time in Santiago by winning a gold medal in the mixed 25-meter pistol SH1 on Saturday morning.