Asgeir Sigurgeirsson: Icelandic shooting champion targets international success

Story highlights

  • Ásgeir Sigurgeirsson in the No.1 sports shooter in Iceland
  • The 29-year-old has yet to reach his peak, he says
  • Took up shooting when he was 17 years old
  • Top shooters enter meditative state of mind to focus when competing, he says
CNN's Human to Hero series celebrates inspiration and achievement in sport. Click here for times, videos and features

(CNN)Most athlete's best days are behind them by the time they reach their 30th birthday, but Ásgeir Sigurgeirsson is hoping that passing that landmark can trigger more success in his shooting career.

Having won a string of national titles in recent years, the Icelandic pistol marksman is now looking to transfer the success he's enjoyed at home onto the international stage.
Time and statistics are on his side, he thinks.
    "I'm 29 years old and the average age of the top 20 shooters in the world is about 34 or 35 so I'm still not at my peak," Sigurgeirsson told CNN's Human to Hero series.
    Raised in Kopavogur, a southern suburb of capital Reykjavik, Sigurgeirsson was encouraged to take up the sport by his father when he was a teenager.
    "I was 17 years old when I started shooting. My dad felt like I needed a hobby -- he's a shooter himself -- so he took me to one practice and there was just no turning back from there."
    Iceland's first Olympic pistol shooter
    Iceland's first Olympic pistol shooter

      JUST WATCHED

      Iceland's first Olympic pistol shooter

    MUST WATCH

    Iceland's first Olympic pistol shooter 02:47
    Initially, he would make the trip to the range once a week and it soon became clear that he had a natural flair for the sport.
    "I was getting decent results in Iceland. I was shooting better than men who had been shooting for 10 years or so. So then I wanted more and it just escalated very quickly and I don't know, in four years, I think I was one of the best in Iceland."
    Now Iceland's undisputed No.1, Sigurgeirsson competes in the 10-meter air pistol and 50-meter free pistol -- two of the 10 shooting events currently on the Olympic program.
    "With the air pistol, the pellets are propelled by compressed air. The free pistol is a 0.22 caliber," he explains.
    "I started with the 10m pistol -- that gives you the best foundation for all shooting events -- and then it just escalated. I got good at the air pistol and the free pistol is very similar and it improves the chances of getting to the Olympics if you shoot in both."
    The margins between success and failure are often fine in sport, but in competitive shooting they are perhaps at their finest, with millimeters the difference between joy and heartbreak.
    In the 10m pistol, the center of the target (which scores a maximum 10 points) is roughly the size of a one-cent coin, says the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF), while at 50m the bullseye is 50mm (around two inches) in diameter -- the same size as a small espresso cup.
    Despite having to hold a job down at a local communications company, Sigurgeirsson manages to train six times a week, cramming in around five hours practice per day, on average.
    Mental strength
    As the Icelander's slight frame testifies, shooting is not so much about physical strength -- although it takes time to perfect holding a one-kilo gun steady, he says -- but mental training is absolutely key.
    "It's physically demanding but not as much as most of the sports, but the mental strain is much more. You have to concentrate very deeply and you have to go into yourself somehow. It's difficult to explain. It's basically meditation," he says.
    "You're not really thinking about the shot, it's just a feel. You're just waiting for the right moment but you never decide to pull the trigger, it just goes and you just instantly know if it's a good shot or not."
    Sigurgeirsson is mostly happy honing his skills alone at his local shooting range -- a situation that suits his "introvert" character -- but he never passes up the opportunity to train with his peers either in person or online.
    "I go to Italy to training camps, so I get to train with the Italian national team and we have Internet competitions like once a week. I shoot against a person in the Italian team and they're very good so it's always very challenging," he says.
    "I love this constant demand to improve yourself and if something goes wrong, you can only blame yourself. There are no excuses."
    Aiming for success
    Sigurgeirsson has enjoyed unparalleled national success in recent years winning eight national titles in a row and holds the Icelandic record in both his events.
    He has also shot his way to three gold medals and a silver at the Games of the Small States of Europe -- a biennial competition where eight of the continents smaller nations (Iceland, Andorra, Luxembourg, Monaco, San Marino, Cyprus, Liechtenstein, Malta and Montenegro) compete across 11 sporting disciplines.
    Iceland is gearing up to host the 16th edition of the games later this year, but medal success on the bigger sporting stages has proved elusive thus far.
    He competed in the 2012 Olympics in London, becoming Iceland's first ever Olympic pistol shooter, but failed to make the 10m final and finished eighth in the same event at the 2013 European championships.
    But with time on his side, Sigurgeirsson is quietly confident that he can hit the bullseye in the years ahead.
    "My plan for the future is definitely to be one of the best. I know I can do it and I think I will ... I'm pretty sure I will."