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Sally Johnston knows the price of gold | Stuff.co.nz

Sally Johnston knows the price of gold

Mark Geenty12:43, Sep 23 2014 KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ GOLDEN GLOW: Sally Johnston returns to Wellington Airport bearing her Commonwealth Games shooting gold medal.

It's one of the more expensive gold medals and it still resides in Sally Johnston's handbag for regular show and tell.

Nearly two months on from climbing the dais, the Wellington-based shooter has done her sums. Winning Commonwealth Games gold in the 50m rifle prone cost nearly $40,000 from her own pocket, on top of the funding she received for making the team.

There's been relative fame in Wellington and her hometown Invercargill, but fortune? 

"It's probably unlikely. We don't have companies in New Zealand that are rushing to sponsor shooting sports. It is a minor sport here and it isn't well supported on TV or in media generally. 

''It's not a criticism, it's just not something New Zealanders find really appealing and sexy and exciting to follow. That makes it kind of tough."

Not that Johnston's complaining. She knew the sport she followed her parents into as a teenager at Southland Girls' High School wasn't going to make her rich, or even become a career.

"My salary is reasonably good and you make sacrifices. You take it out of savings. I've got a decent credit card bill and I pay the minimum on my mortgage. I'm not going to be paying off my mortgage super fast, because I prioritise shooting."

So it was back to reality, fast.

Johnston returned to work at the New Zealand Food Safety Authority on August 11, three days after jetting back into Wellington and her Kelson home which includes her "training room", which houses a Russian made shooting programme using rifle, laser and laptop.

She hasn't fired a rifle since competition ended at the Barry Buddon Shooting Range at Carnoustie, and won't till the season starts at her Maidstone Outdoor Smallbore Rifle Club in late October. She needed the break, and some time to tell her story and soak up some of the adulation of winning one of New Zealand's 14 gold medals - and probably the least known of them.

She's been back to visit schools who did projects on her before she left for Glasgow, and received plenty of attention at work, on the street, and even at her local cafe.

"It's quite funny that you walk down the street or pop into a place you go to regularly to eat and they recognise you for different reasons.

"The number of people that actually recognise me and say 'we saw you win your gold medal', it's quite humbling and amazing that people do connect the dots. That's been quite weird."

She was aware of New Zealand shooting's proud medal history so the impact took a while to hit. Her "oh my god" moment was when she returned to Southland Girls' and was informed she was the school's first gold medallist.

She's told her story often and hasn't yet put her medal on display at home. It stays in her bag so she can satisfy the inevitable requests from colleagues and random punters to see it.

"If a gold medal is the conversation starter that sets a kid on a pathway to their own great achievement then I'm really happy to do what I can in that regard.

"I don't see it as a burden. It's not really about me, it's about what this gold can do for the sport in New Zealand. The recognition is a short term thing ... people will move on ... it's something you deal with and enjoy while it lasts."

The actual day remains a blur, when she beat South African Esmari van Reenen and Jen McIntosh, the Scottish defending champion whose mother presented the medals.

Johnston was composed on the dais, having won bronze in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, and aware her parents Ken and Jenny were more emotional in the crowd. They all got to celebrate with expensive bubbly in Edinburgh a few days later.

Gold Coast in four years is a definite target to defend her title. The Rio Olympics in 2016 are another matter, frustratingly because the women's 50m prone isn't an Olympic event. So to make it she'll have to qualify in her lesser event, the three position, which didn't go so well for her in Glasgow.

There's a nervous wait for funding decisions which are based around likely success in Rio. "I don't know how they will view my application and whether or not the gold medal will necessarily help me. It will have some weighting, it proves I can perform under pressure and that I'm capable of winning, but it may not carry as much weight as I'd hope."

Still, as Johnston has proved already, money isn't a barrier to gold.

The Dominion Post