From Wixey’s win to Skeet silvers and the rise of David McMath, we chart the home nations’ successes at the Commonwealth Games 2018 shooting events
There was an air of trepidation, almost of disappointment, in the run-up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Not among the home nations athletes themselves – who were as positive and unified as ever – but among those with a political interest in the sport, it seemed that everything had gone wrong that possibly could. Firstly, Double Trap, one of Great Britain’s most successful shooting disciplines in recent years, with Peter Wilson’s 2012 Olympic Gold sticking in memory, was removed from future Olympic programmes and its tentative replacement, mixed-teams Trap, looked far from certain in its format and reception. Then, the news that the 2022 Commonwealth Games – held on British soil, no less – wouldn’t include any of the shooting disciplines.
So there were two ways to view the full quota of shooting events (including Double Trap for men and women) that took place in Gold Coast this April. As a death knell, the last outing for a doomed discipline and possibly for Commonwealth shooting as a whole; or as a welcome opportunity to forget all about politics and concentrate on some truly marvellous sporting performances. We chose the latter and we’re happy to report that the athletes did too.
Kicking off at 9am local time on 8 April, the first day of the shooting events, Men’s and Women’s Skeet would be the first medal chances, with the Women’s final taking place the very same day. Just two squads went out and every competitor had a good chance of making the final. It was a Cypriot, Panagiota Andreou, who really dominated in qualifying, setting a Games record by missing only one target of the 75 she faced. Lower down, 69 ex-75 was enough to make the final. England’s Amber Hill and Emily Hibbs both made this, with Amber coming off better in a shoot-off for bib number and taking fourth spot. Emily was fifth and another Cypriot, Andri Eleftheriou, grabbed the last spot in the final.
Cyprus’s domination continued in the final – but not in the way we expected. After Hibbs exited in fifth, Amber Hill was left fighting for podium positions with the two Cypriots. Amber was heading for the exit until Andreou dropped her last two targets to leave her settling for bronze. But Amber could go no further – starting two targets behind her opponent, she missed two of the final ten, while Andri Eleftheriou, having started with the lowest bib, dropped just one to power to gold on 52 ex-60. She showed her class and experience (she won Commonwealth gold in Australia once before, when the Games came to Melbourns in 2006), but Amber’s international credentials, if they weren’t assured after her Olympic final qualification, surely are now.
Fast forward 24 hours and there was a Skeet final full of home nations athletes (don’t forget – in the Commonwealth Games there’s no Team GB; England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the rest compete under their own flags). All behind yet another Cypriot, Georgios Achilleos, we had – in descending order of bib from second to fifth – Ben Llewellin, Jack Fairclough, Gareth McAuley and Freddie Killander. Logically, at least one medal was assured – but could we do better?
Jack was the first to exit; Freddie followed. It soon became a two-horse race as Ben Llewellin and Georgios Achilleos proceeded to the final two, having missed just two each. Bib number didn’t matter now – it was a straight shootout. Ben blinked first, but Georgios missed one just three targets later. Tragically, Ben missed his very next target and that was it – Achilleos made it two golds from two events for Cyprus, but Ben Llewellin for Wales – along with Gareth McAuley’s bronze for Northern Ireland – made for a podium with a distinctively British flavour.
This was the event that many said marked DT ‘bowing out’ from the international stage – but in contrast to this, there were tonnes of new talent on show here, not least that of 21-year-old Scot, David McMath. With conditions difficult on the range, his 137 ex-150 was joint best among all the qualifying athletes, and David duly dispatched India’s Ashab Mohd in the shoot-off to claim bib number one. Tim Kneale, so close to an Olympic medal in 2016 but beaten by Steve Scott, was in the final too (Scott himself was off the pace and wouldn’t claim a third Commonwealth gold in a row).
A pair went sailing by early on for David and he missed one of the next pair too. But he rallied and missed just three targets over the entire remainder of the final. He went from narrowly surviving the first elimination to going into the final pair two ahead of Tim Kneale. Then Kneale dropped three in the last 10 to hand McMath gold by a four-target margin. It was an amazing performance overall from David, whose gold confirmed that this was the most successful overseas Commonwealth Games of all time for Scotland – meanwhile Tim’s medal stands alone as the only one the Isle of Man won during the Gold Coast Games.
The main reason Double Trap is being dropped from the Olympic programme is its lack of gender equality, but the Commonwealth Games showed that its easy enough to fix that while still including DT in its programme.
That said, as a non-ISSF event the women’s Double Trap didn’t have a final, so this all-too-rare event was over all too quickly. India’s Shreyasi Singh and Emma Cox went the distance, the Indian needing a sudden-death shoot-off to defeat her adversary and claim gold. But there was one more spot on the podium and that went to Linda Pearson, who ensured this set of Double Trap events was an exceedingly fruitful one for Scotland.
Trap would close the shooting portion of the Commonwealth Games, and by now there was a huge sense of expectation. It was a ‘hold the presses’ affair for the shooting media – ok, we’ve won a bunch of medals so far, but we probably haven’t seen anything yet!
And it looked like that prediction was correct as the Women’s Trap finalists were confirmed. Four Brits – Sarah Wixey, Abbey Ling and Kirsty Barr scoring a one-two-three of bib numbers and Sharon Niven taking fifth spot – made another medal a logical certainty. Would it be a gold?
Australia’s Laetisha Scanlan, defending her gold from Glasgow 2014, had something to say about that. With athletes dropping targets left, right and centre, Scanlan held her nerve and dropped just four in the first half of the final. Sharon Niven exited in sixth, Abbey Ling in fourth. Sarah Wixey looked like giving Scanlan a run for her money, but a run of four consecutive misses saw her leave the competition in the bronze medal spot. Kirsty Barr was left in the hot seat but started two targets behind the Australian, who gifted Barr a chance, letting four fly away out of the final 10. Barr herself missed three and the competition was decided by a single point. Still, that’s another podium with more Brits than non-Brits on it.
The final day of competition dawned, and with it Men’s Trap, the last Commonwealth shotgun medal to be contested in at least eight years. There was no mistake from the British big boys in qualifying: Michael Wixey, Aaron Heading and Ed Ling took the first three bibs in that order. The final got under way swiftly, and just as swiftly looked to be developing into a two-way race between Wixey and Malta’s Brian Gales, who both went clean through more than 15 targets while everyone else dropped at least two. But Galea faltered and missed four quickly. Then Wixey did the same. The two would miss no more but Galea’s inferior bib number meant he dropped out in bronze position, while Wixey went on and Aaron Heading joined him on the same score.
Ten targets to go; two athletes whose form had swing in different directions. Wixey had recovered from his mid-final dip and smashed 10 in a row. Heading couldn’t keep it up, missing the first and last and one in the middle. Some 16 years after getting bronze in Manchester, Wixey was back at the top of the world.