Perhaps the trickiest part of any athlete’s career is making the decision to retire. Three-time Olympic champion Niccolo Campriani, however, had no gnawing second thoughts when he walked away from the sport after the Rio Olympics.

The Italian shooter admitted that he had started to feel a void right after winning gold in the 50m rifle 3 positions event at the London Olympics in 2012. But despite that, he soldiered on and at Rio 2016 he added two more golds to his haul from London 2012. Despite the medals, however, the sense of happiness had gone missing somewhere along those years.

At the end of the day, it’s about being passionate and loving what you do. It’s so important to pass this message to every athlete that they may not find happiness atop the podium. It’s about working on yourself. The last shot at the Olympics is not going to define who you are,” Campriani told journalists in an online press conference on Monday as he unveiled ‘Taking Refuge’, a documentary about his project to train three refugees for Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Campriani is not the first athlete to have felt that sense of a void after winning Olympic gold. India’s sole individual Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra too has spoken about how he had to ask himself the dreaded ‘what now’ after winning gold at Beijing 2008.

After retiring at the end of Rio 2016 with a fourth-place finish, Bindra started a foundation and Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance Centre to help other athletes. Campriani, on the other hand, started working for the International Olympic Committee.

“After I retired, it was a question of finding some meaning after spending 16 years staring at a piece of paper, which is basically what shooters do,” said Campriani.

The Italian sharpshooter found meaning three years after retirement, with his ambitious project to train upstart refugee shooters to make the cut for Tokyo 2020 in just 500 days.

Campriani counts the day he held the first training session with the three shooters ― Mahdi, Khaoula and Luna ― as one of the happiest moments of his sporting career.

“And it happened after I had retired,” he said. “So that’s the message I want to send out to all athletes who are struggling with retirement. Life goes on beyond your career.”

The Italian has been clear from the start that the project is not just about helping a group of refugee shooters qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. It’s about using the transformative power of sport to help them forge an identity.

“The last thing I want is for these three to focus 100 percent on the sport. That’s not how I lived my career. I was a student-athlete for 13 years of my 16-year-long career. It’s always been about putting sports in the context of life. The idea is to find an identity together ― for them, as refugees trying to integrate into Switzerland, and for me as an Olympian trying to integrate as a former athlete.”

Campriani revealed that while he was selecting athletes for his project, he got every one of the contenders to tell him why they wanted to be picked.

“I was looking for something more than ‘I want to go to the Olympics,’” said Campriani.

 

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