THE past few years have not been easy on anyone and, in a sporting context anyway, Seonaid McIntosh has been hit as hard as anyone.

Britain’s most successful shooter looked, pre-Covid, to be on track to becoming one of Scotland’s most decorated athletes ever but the disruption to her career caused by the pandemic engendered a crisis of confidence so severe the 26-year-old admits she is worried she’ll never rediscover the form that took her to the very top of her sport.

Confidence is the most precarious of things when it comes to elite sport, something McIntosh has discovered to her detriment.

Having become world champion in 2018 the 50m prone rifle event at the age of just 22 before the following year becoming world number one and world record holder, McIntosh looked to have the shooting world at her feet.

However, being forced into what she calls “semi-retirement” by the pandemic when sporting events across the globe were cancelled saw her confidence in her ability almost entirely disappear and she admits she has moments when she wonders if it’ll ever return.

McIntosh’s dip in form was highlighted at last summer’s Olympic Games where she went to Tokyo tipped to medal but ultimately, failed to reach the final of either of her events.

In the immediate aftermath of Tokyo 2020, she admitted to being “heartbroken” and a year on, she admits she remains as bewildered by her loss of form as she ever has.

“The after-effects of the pandemic are definitely still here for me – in some ways, it felt like I was forced into retirement and my brain moved on so going back to being an athlete has been quite tricky. I don’t like complaining about it because I know people had a much worse pandemic than me but it has been tough,” the Edinburgh woman says.

“I lost a lot of confidence in my ability to shoot and also in myself and I’m still working on getting that confidence back.

“In Tokyo, I’d lost that spark and although I didn’t do badly, I definitely didn’t do anywhere near as well as I did the year before.

“In some ways, it’s harder having been at such a high level before – I know the feeling I’m looking for and in some ways, knowing that makes it more frustrating than not being sure what I’m looking for. Shooting is very much a feel sport and it’s tricky to know how to get that feeling back.”

There is no time like the present for McIntosh to rediscover her form.

Today in Cairo, she embarks on the World Championships and while she admits she is not as match sharp as she would like having had her season plagued by illness and injury, she is well aware that one good competition is likely to be all she needs to get herself back on the path she was on a few years ago.

After all, form is temporary but class is permanent.

“I feel like one good competition could solve it all for me,” she says.

“I know that’d be the perfect scenario but I do feel like all I need is for one event to go well and I’ll be off and running again.

“Having won the Worlds before it both puts pressure on and takes it off.

“On the one hand, I’d love to do it again – it was a great feeling in 2018 so I’d love to feel that again. But I know I have to just treat it like any other competition and not put too much emphasis on it. That can be easier said than done, though.”

At these World Championships, McIntosh has a hectic schedule; she will compete in eight events, both individual and team, giving her multiple opportunities to find her form.

However, the fact that qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympics is also at stake means there is an extra layer of pressure on the week’s competition.

“It’s crazy to be talking about Paris already. It feels like Tokyo is only just finished and already, Paris is only just over a year and a half away, it seems very soon,” she says.

“I do like having big goals like the Olympic though, it makes it easier to focus. At these Worlds, wanting a quota place for the Paris Olympics actually makes me feel more pressure than anything else.

“It’s even hard to know what would be a realistic goal for me here so I’m just going in hoping I have a good performance in me and wherever that leaves me, that’s ok – as long as I feel like I’ve performed well, I think I’ll be reasonably happy.”