Desert victories

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Aaron Heading and Peter Wilson sent Team GB to the top of the medal table with a pair of golds at this year’s second ISSF World Cup event in Al Ain, UAE.

First Heading won gold in the men’s Trap having only qualified for the final after a seven-way shoot-off; then Wilson triumphed in the Double Trap in his first competitive event since the Olympics and having only trained for two weeks.

Heading was up against a man who had the match in his pocket: three-time World Champion and all-time Trap great, Italy’s Giovanni Pellielo.

At 44, Pellielo has an impressive record, but significantly his last major medal was silver at the Beijing Games.

Three-time world champion Pellielo was beaten into second place

Three-time world champion Pellielo was beaten into second place

Nevertheless the diminutive Italian remains a formidable competitor and still very ambitious. He trains as hard as ever and perhaps his sights are still firmly set on winning the Olympic gold medal that still eludes him.

This was certainly Beretta’s idea when for the second time in his career they lured him away from Perazzi for the 2012 Games.

In Al Ain, Beretta DT11 in hand, he displayed no sign of flagging. A consummate professional in regard to technique and his approach to shooting, he proceeded to achieve a perfect 125 ex125.

The good conditions were clearly a great help and others benefited from them, including Aaron Heading’s teammates Mark Hampton and Mike Wixey.

One year younger than Pellielo, Wixey, while an experienced and competent performer, has a meagre ISSF record in international competition, with only eight appearances for GB.

But on this, his ninth appearance, Wixey opened his account with a 25 straight, and throughout the five qualifying rounds never lost a grip on the competition, finishing only two targets behind Pellielo’s perfect score.

Matching him shot for shot was Erik Varga (SVK), the European Champion in 2011, and Oguzhan Tuzun (TUR), a former Junior World Champion who has amassed an impressive collection of gold medals in World Cup events.

Going into the six-man semi-final, the cast also included Andreas Scherhaufer (AUT) on 122. In the last spot was Aaron Heading, who to make the final had to see off no fewer than six other competitors in a single-barrel sudden-death shoot-off for a score of 121 + 5.

Shot from three stands instead of five with the use of single barrel only, the semi-final eliminated Wixey and Tuzun to put forward either Heading or Scherhaufer to shoot off with Pellielo for the gold medal, leaving Varga to shoot off for bronze.

Defeating the Austrian 5-4, Heading now faced Pellielo, who was still in untouchable form having shot 15 ex15. A single target was yet to escape his deadly aim.

Scherhaufer and Varga now duelled for the bronze medal. The Austrian claimed third place on the podium by a single target 11-10.

Pellielo and Heading then went for gold, but the Brit missed his first target. Pellielo didn’t miss until his ninth target.

Then, as they say, the wheels came off – Heading missed only one more and the Italian dropped three.

A jubilant Aaron Heading takes gold after a fightback in the gold medal match

A jubilant Aaron Heading takes gold after a fightback in the gold medal match

Wilson’s gold came two days later, and speaking to him only hours after his return to the UK revealed that originally it was not his intention to compete – but circumstances provided the opportunity, and Britain’s golden boy took it.

The UAE is the home of his friend and mentor Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, architect of Wilson’s victory in the London Games, so his training programme coincided with the World Cup.

“It was an opportunity too good to miss,” said Wilson, “a superb ground. I have practised there before, and every time I go there they’ve improved it further, even growing trees in the desert to provide a greener background.”

It was a case of jumping into the deep end unprepared. Wilson has done little shooting since London, and  there were the new rules for Double Trap to contend with.

“Some of the time I really struggled,” said Wilson. “Nothing seemed right.” Instead of just two targets thrown, you get two from three and there is no second delay.

The course of fire is also different – instead of three rounds of 50 targets and a final, it’s five rounds of 30 plus 30 and 30 more for the semi-final and what the ISSF terms the ‘medal matches’.

But he doesn’t see the new rules as a problem. “I think scores could get higher,” he says. “Anyway, that’s the way it is and it represents a new challenge.”

It’s another gold for the Wilson-Al Maktoum partnership

It’s another gold for the Wilson-Al Maktoum partnership

Wilson qualified for the semi-final in fifth position, five targets off the American Walton Eller’s score of 146 ex150. During most of the competition Al Maktoum had not been present.

“I will show up if you make the final,” he had told his protégé. Wilson had made it, so the two men put their heads together. “We talked it through,” explains Wilson, “and Ahmed had a number of things to say” (all top secret of course).

“Let’s just say we tweaked a few things. Our agreement hasn’t changed since London. Ahmed talks and I listen and I always take his advice.”

It would seem this policy continues to pay off. In the semi-final Wilson missed a single target for 29 – closest to him was China’s Hao Wang on 27, which decided the shoot-off for the gold and silver positions.

Two Italians would shoot for the bronze: Davide Gasparini on 26, and Daniele di Spigno 25 who had defeated Walton Eller in a shoot-off.

Wilson, now back on track, slammed the door on Hao Wang’s hopes with an emphatic 30 ex30. Gasparini shot 27 to his teammate’s 26 to take bronze.

At this World Cup in the desert, in Trap and Double Trap, two Brits entered the finals in fifth and sixth position and came out on top.

Is there something of significance that can be drawn from this success?

It would be fanciful to suggest, although I’ve done so elsewhere, that the British like a close-run thing and therefore by inference we are a nation of battling underdogs.

I think it is rather that Peter Wilson’s medal in London has created a new feeling of self-belief in British shooters, and there is every reason to believe we can expect to see more medal winners in the future.

Vic Harker

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