Helena Douglas catches up with George Digweed MBE
George Digweed is a true great of clay shooting. With a new trophy room being built at his home to display silverware from 12 World Cups, 20 World Championships and 16 European Championships, won over a 24-year period, he is the most decorated shooter ever. But, as he explains, his 20th World Championship is causing some sleepness nights.
“Winning in Cyprus was fantastic but felt different,” he says. “It is certainly a milestone but I haven’t viewed things since in the same way as I normally do this time of year. Maybe I’m saying I’ve won 20 major championships and perhaps there are now other things I want to do. After all, I could retire and always be known as one of the greats. So asking me what is next is very apt: if I’m honest I don’t really know.”
George admits he doesn’t get much time to himself, thanks to his clay-shooting career and his business running several game shoots with his wife Kate. “I couldn’t do, or have done, what I have without Kate, and I live a privileged life, but there is pressure on me all the time. After Cyprus I suddenly thought maybe I could alleviate that pressure by not competing so much. I will be shooting for another two years because of my sponsor contracts but after that I’ll review things and see how I feel. It would be great to do the things I like, such as salmon fishing, without having to get the diary out and see if I can fit them around competitions.”
Should the competition circuit lose George, he is in no doubt someone else will fill the gap. “Records are there to be broken. Bjorn Borg’s records were thought unbreakable then along came Federer, then Nadal and Djokovic. I guarantee someone will come along at some stage and dominate. But whether they will win as many majors as I have done – well, who knows?”
Clearly the man loves winning, but what is it that gives him the edge? As he explains, the equipment shooters use is virtually the same: a gun, a cartridge, a clay. “The things that differ are eyesight, timing, hand-eye coordination, and mental strength. The other, possibly most significant thing, is that we all want something different from what we do. I wanted to hit the heights and to be the best. I never expected to win a World Championship but when I won my first I liked the feeling and wanted more of it. So then you work hard to try to stay where you are.”
Despite his longevity and his success, George admits there are downsides. “People often think I just pick up a gun and that’s that, that it’s easy, or luck, or that I was born with it. But every time I go out there I put my reputation on the line and work under a burden of expectation. If it goes wrong I get grief. Then there is a lot of jealousy. Over the years I’ve learnt to ignore both and remember that I’ve achieved what I wanted.”
Asked about the biggest change in the clay-shooting world over the past 24 years, George points to the increased standard of shooting. “Just as records will always be broken, standards always improve. Today they are so high that it’s incredibly hard for single people to dominate. When I started competitive shooting a score in the high 80s would win, now you need to be shooting high 90s or you have no chance.”
Clearly George has taken the chances he’s had and grabbed them with both hands. “I have made every effort to attain the personal and professional goals I’ve set myself,” he says. “I truly believe that as long as you give your best shot you can stand tall whatever the outcome.”
As to the outcome of George’s wranglings with what to do next we shall have to wait and see. One thing is certain: he isn’t the type to sit back and do no more than polish those trophies.