Britain may be small but we try our best to prove that we are Great – why then do we not show a dominance in international shooting events as we do in other sports, asks Vic Harker
My most lasting impression of Australia was formed on the first day of my first visit. I was reading a Melbourne newspaper in my hotel and there was a piece on an athletic event somewhere in Europe in which the Australians had taken part. Instead of the comment focusing on the winner it was all about an Australian who was placed fifth and even then, nearly 30 years ago, it reminded me of the way British journalists all too often report the results of our British Shooting teams abroad in the same way.
It then immediately struck me that whilst geographically Australia is a large place, in other respects it is very small.
To a degree this is understandable, even now for the majority of Australians their history and culture relates to a civilisation a world away and over which they exert very little influence.
The British have no such excuse – we are a tiny scrap of land broken away from mainland Europe millennia ago and separated by just 25 miles of sea.
In our history, however, we have punched well above our weight. Apart from the period when we had dominance over a fifth of the earth’s surface, we produced William Shakespeare, we’re home to the first steam locomotives and public train lines, we were the first industrialised nation on the planet and on top of that, our language and cultural influence is global.
You would think, therefore, that when it comes to the international forms of shooting, as with other sports, we would be a leading player.
Those of you who read my articles from time to time will know I am unstinting in my praise of British achievements when they are genuine. I even dig up past triumphs, which a lot of people don’t remember or even know about. I usually focus on the international events when the British have beaten top shooters from other countries, which only emphasises the scale of the achievement. It is not just a matter of winning but who you beat that’s important. With that in mind let’s take a look at some British successes and some of the opposition that got in front of us this season.
The European FITASC Sporting Championship has been staged 45 times since its inauguration in 1967 and British shooters have won it 33 times. In the case of the World Championships, first staged in 1979, British shooters have won it 27 times.
I feel obliged here to mention that George Digweed MBE has contributed to this total with a massive eight World FITASC titles and 11 European FITASC titles.
Other British multiple winners include: Richard Faulds, who has won three European championships and one world; John Bidwell has three European titles to his name and Ben Husthwaite, so far in his career, has won two European and one world championship title. An enviable record, and it’s important to remember that it is thanks to a large domestic participation in Sporting.
There has, however, been a blip in this long run of victories in the last two years. French shooter Christophe Auvret won the European Championship in 2010 and the World Championship this year and Italy’s Marco Battisti is the 2011 European Champion. However, I remain confident that normal service will resume next year when our wealth of talent in Sporting will put us back on top.
The other FITASC discipline, Universal Trench, has also enjoyed an increasing British following over the last few years and we have produced a clutch of European and World Champions, with Ed Ling being the most recent in 2010.
This year, however, it was Gregorio Fuentes Manzano of Spain who shot a 199ex-200 to win the gold.
What our success in the international forms of Sporting demonstrates to me is that if more Brits competed in Olympic Trap and Skeet we would enjoy similar success.
The great crusade this year for those Brits in the Olympic disciplines was to capture quota places for next year’s Games in London. The Double Trap team collected theirs in the first two World Cups thanks to Peter Wilson, who took home a silver medal and a quota place from Chile, and Richard Faulds, who won the Sydney event outright to receive a gold medal with his quota place.
At Maribor in Slovenia in July Peter Wilson won his second medal of the season – this time a gold.
Following such a promising season for Ian Coley’s Double Trap team, they can now look forward, with some justifiable confidence, to next year’s Games.
The reason for our success in Double Trap? Ian Coley had the foresight to get us into Double Trap early, and apart from talent, he was able to see that participation is not as strong from other countries so we compete on more equal terms.
As well as Faulds’ Gold in Sydney, Olympic Skeet shooter Richard Brickell shot 124ex-125 +23 in a high-scoring event to make the final and win a quota place; a great effort from a stalwart of British Olympic Skeet shooting.
Elena Allen, Britain’s highest ranked Lady Skeet shooter also made the final in Chile and did enough to win the single quota place on offer for the event – although it would have been awarded to GB as the host nation.
It was the cruellest of fates for Olympic Trap shooter Aaron Heading at the second World Cup in Maribor, winning a shoot-off to make the final he won the bronze medal but the two Olympic places went to Jesus Serrano of Spain and Michael Diamond of Australia in gold and silver position.
The new Olympic Trap World Champion is Massimo Fabbrizi and two other Italians who have already qualified for the Olympics made the final in Belgrade: three times World Champion Giovanni Pellielo and Rudolfo Vigano. Yet another example of when it comes down to the wire in Olympic Trap the Italians are among the front runners, and why? Like the British in Sporting they have talent in depth – watch out for them in London next year.
Considering the small participation in the Olympic disciplines in the UK and attendance at selection shoots for both Trap and Skeet down to around 60 shooters, Double Trap even less, GB has not done badly. On the other hand, were the next Olympics not being held in London, without the two quota places available to us as the host nation we would have no participation in the Men’s and Ladies Olympic Trap events.
That Great Britain, second only to the USA in first organising clay shooting as a sport, should play such a small part in events that showcase it on a world stage with only three Olympic medals since 1952 is shameful. The reason is simple – a lack of participation.
We do not lack facilities; Olympic-standard ranges at Southern Counties, Bisley, Nuthampstead, South Wales 2000, East Yorkshire and Griffin Lloyd are all under used. We do not lack talent either but rather the collective will to take up the challenge.
So, next time you are defending clay pigeon shooting on the grounds that it’s an Olympic sport, make sure you are genuinely part of it. Until you are, so far as the shooting sports that have a relevance world wide we will remain little Britain, but with your help we really can be great.