Vic Harker looks at our Olympic record and examines why we won’t improve on our international performance until we start to promote the Olympic disciplines
While a great amount of lip service is given to the efforts of our young shooters and their ambitions for the London Olympics, very little acknowledgment is given to the scale of their task.
In the modern Olympics – from the 1952 Games in Helsinki – the UK has won three medals for clay target shooting. Some individuals from other countries have won that amount on their own – how? Are the British particularly inept in this area of competitive shooting? Of course not, the reasons are both historical and cultural.
Invented by the Americans, clay target shooting spread throughout the English speaking nations long before the rest of the world showed much interest. Most notably the British adopted the American forms of Trap and Skeet, and by the 1930s a firm following had been established.
After more than a 20-year absence, clay shooting was reintroduced at the Helsinki Olympics in the form of a new Trap event, much faster and more demanding than before. A Canadian won the first gold medal as both the US and British shooting organisations were reluctant to embrace the new discipline and encourage its growth in their own countries. It was therefore left to the Europeans – whose competitive live pigeon shooting had previously been their main interest – to seize the opportunity this new Olympic sport offered. In the UK it eventually fell to a few enthusiasts to create facilities and administer the Olympic forms of shooting, independent of the CPSA.
In 1968 Britain’s first Olympic gold medal, won by Bob Braithwaite, gave some impetus to participation, but since then Ian Peel’s silver medal in the 2000 Sydney Games together with Richard Faulds’ gold for the new discipline of Double Trap, have been the only medals won by Britain.
While this success attracted some government money, it also involved the parachuting in of a performance director, who administered the funding and directed the training of a handful of shooters he selected. Apparently autonomous and all powerful, one of his earliest pronouncements on attending an Olympic Trap selection shoot was to advise those present that anyone over the age of 35 would not be involved in any of his future plans for the British Team – this was in the aftermath of 42-year-old Ian Peel’s silver medal. What he didn’t seem to grasp was that he had just dismissed at least 85 per cent of Olympic Trap participants.
After two further Olympic Games with no medals won, and Beijing without a single Brit qualifying for either the Men’s Trap or Skeet events, he resigned and the funding dried up. His departure left a few young shooters, who’d had a lot of money spent on them, but the older ones had taken him at his word and walked away – most notably from Trap as it had more participants to begin with.
It should be mentioned that the ISSF has already played its part in making Olympic shooting less attractive to countries with few shooters. The course of fire reduced from 200 targets to 125 means the amateur enthusiast who wishes to support selection shoots has to bear the travel expenses and the cost of a hotel for very little shooting.
This may not concern people at the top of the game, but they should remember that these shooters are the sport’s only supporters. Until recently, the BICTSF has remained oblivious to the consequences of the dwindling participation in the Olympic disciplines. I do not underestimate the difficulties of remedying this situation and I am conscious that the Board members are largely acting unpaid. It nevertheless should be remembered that for any sport to remain relevant, it needs either healthy participation or a very big audience; in the UK the Olympic shooting disciplines have neither.
I was therefore thrilled to learn that a Board member has at last grasped the danger to British international shooting and is taking steps on his own.
On Sunday 23 July, at Southern Counties, Christian Schofield is extending an invitation to any British shooters, who have yet to participate in Olympic Trap, to come along and have a go. Some of the cost involved will be subsidised from his own pocket, which is an extraordinary gesture on the part of one individual and can hardly demonstrate more clearly his interest and concern for the sport he represents.
Regardless of any benefit gained from this initiative, the collective task at this time is to ensure shooters competing for a place in the Olympics, and those who have already won theirs, are given all the support and encouragement they deserve. The time for any reassessment as it relates to them should wait until after the next Olympics.
Nevertheless this first step by a member of the International Board to acknowledge and begin to seek ways to improve the participation in the Olympic shooting disciplines is to be applauded. For full details on the event at Southern Counties see page 10.