The Olympic disciplines are perhaps the toughest in shooting. The volume of Sporting shooters is much greater, making those who win world championships that much more impressive, but the steps you have to climb and hoops you have to jump through to represent your country at the Olympics is for the select few.
Over the next five issues, Clay Shooting will meet five of these select individuals who have worked tirelessly to reach a point where they are among the greatest in the world at what they do, beginning with Tim Kneale.
Born on the Isle of Man and brought up on a farm, Tim is naturally a fan of the outdoors and an athlete who regularly enjoyed a number of sports including rugby, cricket and football. These team games don’t always foster or promote personal accolades, so to succeed in an individual sport such as shooting requires a different mindset, which some are born with but others have to develop.
Tim said: “I used to do a bit of rough shooting on the farm, then a bit of Skeet and Sporting at local clubs, but in 1999 Ayre Clay Target Club put in an Olympic Trench layout. That’s when I first started with Double Trap. It was a big deal for the Isle of Man and has led to three Commonwealth titles, and I have become an international shooter because of it.”
It takes some time to master the nuances of competion within a system like British Shooting and work in the ISSF cycles towards Olympic glory.
The reigning Double Trap world champion Vasily Mosin spent seven years on the ISSF circuit before coming close to his first world title, when he took gold at the Americana World Cup in 2005. He only won his first world championship last year, nearly 18 years after he first appeared on the biggest international stage.
In comparison, Tim started shooting at Junior ISSF competitions in 2002 and moved into the Senior ranks in 2005, at a time when Britain was still rejoicing in Richard Faulds’ Double Trap Olympic gold. Tim has been steadily improving to the point where he was breaking world records and appearing in the British squad with regularity. He said: “Having trained with gold medalists like Richard and Peter Wilson, and having these guys as role models has given the rest of us something to aspire to. We have great leaders, with the likes of [fellow Double Trap Olympian] Steve Scott, who has won multiple European Championships and is the reigning Commonwealth gold medalist. There is a good atmosphere on the Double Trap squad. A lot of it is developed from the squad system we use in training, but we all get on and want to see each other do well, and to see the sport do well – that has always been a priority in Double Trap.”
With Peter and Richard now retired, the new generation of Tim, Steve and Matthew French, as well as up-and-coming stars like Matt Coward-Holley, have shown they are more than capable of maintaining Britain’s place among the top international teams. At the 2015 European Championship, Tim teamed with Matt Coward-Holley and Steve Scott to claim gold for the best team, and just a few months later, Tim shot at the World Championship in a gold-medal-winning trio with Matt Coward-Holley and Matthew French. Tim said: “The whole year was about winning a quota place, it wasn’t about winning the World Championship, so we’d achieved what we’d wanted. Once I realised I won the quota place the emotions kicked in and it was a job to focus on task in hand of competing in the gold-medal final – it’s such a huge achievement it was hard to control emotions. I was just enjoying myself and enjoying that period. It was a distraction, but to win the team event was brilliant.”
As the calendar turned into 2016, the focus changed. No longer was it about just reaching the Olympics, it was time to focus on getting to the medal rounds. The Olympians have had media training, confirmed some sponsorship agreements – Tim in particular is working with the Isle of Man investment company RL360° Quantum – and now they must focus on perfecting their technique in the build up to Rio. Tim has been working with Martin Barker since he started, and the duo are working to bring Tim to his peak by summer. Tim said: “I need to make a few technical changes with regards to my foot position on one stand, which we identified as my weakest last year, and I need a bit more mental preparation at the beginning of rounds to make sure I am switched on from the start. The first five pairs are random, so there’s a lot more variability to what is coming out of the trench, but ideally I need to be hitting 140ex-150 or more to be in a strong position to reach the final.”
Having introduced some of these adjustments, Tim’s opening World Cup of 2016 should be viewed as a work in progress. His score wasn’t the sky high we have come to expect from a world-record holder, but the time to work out the kinks in your game is now. Tim said: “I am pleased with the result, I was three targets off the final, which is a good result but it’s a balance between making final everytime and taking stock of where we are in season, and where I need to be. It would be great to have hit a few more targets but the focus is getting in the right position. It’s a building process and the World Cup was a good learning opportunity.”
Tim will be ready for his first appearance at the Olympics, and while British Shooting has goals that its athletes must achieve, Tim is reluctant to get ahead of himself. He said: “I had a long think about this and spoke to British Shooting’s sports psychologist Paul Hughes. My aim for Rio this year is to have a lifetime-best achievement. Depending on how others want to interpret that – whether that’s finishing second, or first, or setting a new record – a lifetime-best achievement could be a number of things. My mindset is to balance expectation and ambition.”