Sharpshooter Jenna MacKenzie to make history

ONE OF A KIND KIWI: Jenna MacKenzie.
ONE OF A KIND KIWI: Jenna MacKenzie.

Queenstown sharpshooter Jenna MacKenzie will make history when she lines up at the Commonwealth Games later this year.

The 21-year-old, who will make her Games debut in Glasgow, will be the first New Zealander to compete across all three smallbore rifle-shooting disciplines. Despite her youth, she has worked long and hard to get to this point.

While shooting has been one of New Zealand's most prolific medal sports, outside the Commonwealth Games it receives only passing attention and MacKenzie has battled away outside the limelight.

Finding funding and sponsorship for equipment and travel and any of the myriad other expenses that go into competing around the world has meant the fight does not end when she walks away from the range.

"It's pretty tough; it's kind of heartbreaking at times when the money you've saved is flowing out, your parents are wanting to go [to events] but can't [afford to] go."

MacKenzie said the support - financial and emotional - of parents Ken and Trish had been vital in getting to this point.

Although she knew some time ago that she had qualified and was a lock for selection, it has been a tough wait until the official announcement on Thursday so that extended family and friends could be told.

Still a member of the small Mossburn smallbore club she has represented since she first started shooting, MacKenzie will move to Timaru on Tuesday to be near her coach, Jock Allen, in the buildup to Glasgow and the world championships in September.

Unfortunately, and despite a passionate plea to Shooting New Zealand by MacKenzie, Allen will not be allowed to coach MacKenzie in Glasgow unless he pays his own way to the Commonwealth Games.

MacKenzie believes her chances of making the top eight and advancing to the finals in Glasgow would be much greater if Allen were present.

"It's disappointing. I've never had a coach with me and I've always felt that it would be worth those extra points. They just didn't want to know anything about it."

It's not the first setback MacKenzie has faced in her career.

Two years ago she missed out on the London Olympics. In 2011, she was fined and disqualified from driving for six months for drink-driving.

"You have disappointments in life and people understand that. It's one thing for someone to get a drink-driving [conviction] but, when it's an athlete, it's portrayed even more. It makes it sound worse than it is."

MacKenzie is one of nine Kiwi shooters selected for the Games. Delhi gold medallists Mike Collings and John Snowden headline the team, competing in the fullbore rifle. Ricky Zhao and MacKenzie are the only Games debutants.

"Just 22 countries progress through a stringent qualification process to earn a spot at Glasgow and it is much tougher than getting to the world championships," said Collings, who will compete as an individual and alongside Snowden in the pairs.

Like many amateur athletes, Collings maintains a part-time job to fund his training and competition programme.

Shooting is one of New Zealand's most successful Commonwealth Games sports, with 51 medals won since the first in 1966.