For a coach on the verge of his sixth consecutive Olympic Games, Ian Coley is remarkably laid back. The softly spoken 65-year-old doesn’t do over the top and it’s hard to imagine him firing orders at anyone. Yet his passion for competitive shotgun shooting is clear and his excitement about London 2012 palpable.
Being an Olympic coach for the past 24 years has given Ian considerable perspective on the development of the sport, the Olympics themselves and how realistic Britain’s chances of a medal win in London really are.
“Over that time a lot has changed”, he explains. “The standard of shooting has got higher, as has the standard of all sports. The Olympics differ enormously from other competitions – the passion is more intense, the crowds are bigger, there is more media coverage and the focus and pressure on us will be intense because we are on home turf. But, the Olympics are the most exciting sporting event in the world and one that creates real passion. And I know, as all coaches know, that gold medals only come through a combination of passion and the desire to win.”
As for medal chances in London, Ian is modestly confident. “We have a realitic chance across the board but our strongest is in Double Trap. Peter Wilson is probably favourite, which puts a lot of pressure on him, and between Peter and Richard Faulds I believe there is a medal chance. My dream would be to see them shoot off for the gold and silver. We also have good chances in Skeet with Richard Brickell and Rory Warlow. Richard has a knack of turning it on for the big day and Rory shoots extremely well – but it’s his first Games and it’s unusual for people to win at their first because of the pressure. Elena Little is shooting well in ladies Skeet and this is her second Olympics – the stats say that you are more likely to medal at a second games. London is also Ed Ling’s second games: he is a strong competitor and hard to beat in a final. Then there is Charlotte Kerwood, our Ladies’ Trap shooter who is very experienced and on her best form, also in contention for a medal.”
Ian, who has shot internationally in more clay disciplines for England or Great Britain than anyone else, started his Olympic legacy in Barcelona in 1992. “My move into coaching was almost accidental,” he says. “I had had a good career and then started coaching, taking a team to the World Championships in Russia. After that I was asked to go to the Olympics and as I never got there as a shooter I jumped at the chance of going as a coach. While we didn’t win any medals, it opened my eyes to what the Olympics is all about and just how incredible it is.”
Double Trap, which is Ian’s speciality and Britain’s most successful shotgun discipline, was first shot at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where the 19-year-old Richard Faulds came 5th in the final in his Olympic debut. “Double Trap was created as a new shooting sport because it is so challenging,” explains Ian. “But the fact that it suits British shooters as it involves two going-away targets meant I thought that medals would be very winnable.”
He was right and it was at the 2000 Sydney Olympics that the hard work paid off and Richard won a gold medal in Double Trap. “That was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Ian, quietly. “Well perhaps I’d better say in my professional life,” he adds with a grin. “It was a wonderful time and made all the better by the fact that Ian Peel had won a silver medal in Trap just two days before.”
After Sydney Ian considered relinquishing his coaching role and focusing on running his shooting school in Cheltenham. “After a lot of thought I decided to stay and we went to Athens which was a difficult Olympics. The upside of not doing well, however, was that we learnt a lot and can apply that knowledge to London.”
So how exactly is Ian’s tackling London 2012? “Well despite my grand title, I am more of a mentor than a coach, so I oversee things, keep people in the right frame of mind, and make sure they get everything right that needs to be right. It’s about managing expectations, understanding that different people need different things in different ways and appreciating that while we are a team, everyone also competes as an individual.”
A win in London would clearly be a boost for shooting. “People often knock it and a medal would help alleviate that,” Ian says. “It might also help us find new Trap and Skeet shooters. Lots of schools and colleges have a shooting club but they shoot Sporting not Olympic disciplines, and we don’t go out and bring those people on.”
So, what is next for Mr Coley and does he fancy a trip to Rio in 2016? “I don’t think I will do it again,” he says. “I think I will retire after London, but winning or losing may put a different perspective on that. Having this role has been fantastic and I’m lucky because shooting has been a way of life for me, not just a job. Experiencing the passion of six Olympic Games is something I will miss like hell.”