On an uncharacteristically cold Friday in March, the greats of the clay shooting world descended on Ian Coley’s shooting school, near Cheltenham.
The event was, of course, Clay Shooting’s glittering Clay Shooter of the Year Awards – a chance for the true stars of 2012 to be recognised for their achievements.
Despite a few vacancies because of the snow the turnout was impressive, with companies and shooters alike gathering for a morning of shooting followed by a three-course lunch.
The snow forced the ground to reduce its Sporting course to eight stands instead of 10 but, nonetheless, the layout was testing and varied. Spirits were high, with some not-so-friendly competition suggesting many are eager to get cracking for the 2013 season.
The day was not about the scores, however, and many were pleased to head off to the warmth of the awards venue for the main part of the day.
The location this year was The Frogmill Inn, only a mile or two from the ground, and now owned by world-renowned chef Marco Pierre-White. After lunch, the room settled down for the winners to be announced.
Our first winner of the afternoon could not be with us, although he certainly needs no introduction. No shooting award ceremony (in fact it seems no award ceremony at all) would be complete without Peter Wilson making an appearance.
His victory at London 2012 was the product of six years of hard work by Peter himself, British Shooting, Ian Coley and Muhammad Al Maktoum, and as such Peter left us with a video message in his absence to thank his supporters over the years, including his father, who collected his award.
In the message Peter assured us that he will be back to defend his medal in Rio, and is back in training in order to get there. No doubt we will see him at many ISSF World Championships in the months to come.
And our second winner couldn’t join us on the day, the great George Digweed. George received this award in light of his 20th World title won last year in Nicosia, Cyprus.
That achievement topped off a great year for the most decorated shooter ever – winning the Pan African Compak and FITASC in March, the European Compak and FITASC in May and June respectively, and the Jack Pyke English Open.
And, with this latest win, George proved himself a worthy recipient of our award for the second year running.
Though it was a shame neither of these two greats could make it on the day, it does show that our sport’s stars are becoming less accessible, owing to wider commitments – a shame for those of us used to rubbing shoulders with them, but satisfying to know that their skills on the clay range mean they are perhaps being recognised in the same league as professional sportsmen.
Third up was Ian Mullarkey – one of the best-known DTL shooters on the circuit. With some great wins over the years, including team wins at the World and European DTL championships, 2012 was no different.
Kicking off with a victory at the Krieghoff Classic in June, Ian followed this up with High Gun at the Perazzi DTL at Bywell with an impressive 200/597 in tough conditions.
Next was our Junior winner, a title which this year fell to Helice star Nathan Hales. Last year culminated in an overall silver medal and a Junior gold at the World Cup in June for the 16-year-old, building on his European Junior title.
And it seems Nathan has talents elsewhere too, recording his first 100-straight at Skeet in 2012, and being chosen to represent Great Britain at the World FITASC in Chicago.
These successes hold him in good stead for his ultimate goal, too – Olympic gold – and to this end Nathan has made a start on Olympic Trap.
Next up was our Lady shot Rachel Yardy, who, despite not being a part of the official Great Britain team, managed to bag gold at the European Universal Trench Championships in Lonato.
At the time of the championships, Rachel hadn’t picked up a gun in six months – adding to her delight at taking the gold. Rachel now has her sights set on Rio 2016, and will be concentrating on Olympic Trench this year to start her preparation.
Staying with the Universal Trench theme, the team award went to Great Britain’s team, who managed to bag medals at the World Championships in Portugal.
Not only that, they proved a force to be reckoned with at the European Championships, with silvers for both the Junior and senior teams.
With the European Championships coming up on 14 –16 June and the World Championships on 22–25 August this year, let’s hope they continue their run of success into 2013.
And who could forget World Sporting winner Stuart Clarke, a man who fought off tough competition from George Digweed, Ed Solomons and Pat Lieske of the USA to take the prestigious title?
With 15 years since his last major win, Stuart is hoping to get back in the game and concentrate on FITASC in 2013, as well as retain his title at the World Sporting in America.
Lastly came a special Lifetime Achievement award.
The winner has been an Olympic coach for 24 years, six consecutive Games and two Olympic gold medals, and despite hinting before the London 2012 that he may retire, we might well see Ian Coley on the Olympic circuit for a while yet to come.
Although never having competed in the Olympics himself, Ian made his mark on the Trap scene in his youth, and now runs his shooting school to impart his knowledge to others.
Ian is a real ambassador for our sport and a true inspiration for future generations of British Olympians.