Before last month’s launch of Clay Shooting’s bid to get George Digweed nominated as the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, the staff were in two minds as to whether the campaign should go ahead. Would it be worth it? Had anyone from a shooting sport ever been considered?
We didn’t even attempt such an undertaking last year, when Peter Wilson topped the podium at London 2012. It seemed like he didn’t stand a chance against the gold medal athletes from mainstream sports such as tennis, cycling and athletics last year, and the last time Britain won a shooting gold medal at Olympic level was in 2000, when champion Richard Faulds also failed to make the final shortlist. Shooting sports have never been treated favourably, but in 2013, though some of our greatest athletes have built on the success of last year, George Digweed has had more success than perhaps any other British athlete.
With two world championships, and two European titles to his name – not to mention several other accolades you can find overleaf – his achievements outweigh many other potential candidates, so Clay Shooting felt 2013 would be the year George Digweed, and the sport, was put on the map.
George Digweed’s career, now more than 25 years long, is only just reaching its peak, and he seems to be the favourite whenever he attends a competition. When we spoke to the 22-time world champion, he agreed.
“Yeah, I have had a great year, my best ever, I think. Any win at international level is hard work these days, but to win as many as I have this year, I’m really pleased. I started the year in Africa and won five major events there, and I’ve won all around the globe all year, ending with the ICTSF World Sporting in Canada. They were difficult targets to shoot, but it doesn’t hurt now and then to struggle at the majors. It is a world championship at the end of the day.”
George has participated in enough world championship events to know what separates the good shooters from the bad. He said, “A lot of people shoot easy targets and think they are the best thing since sliced bread, and when they go to a difficult shoot they’re found wanting. Some of the so-called shooting experts were shooting low 70s, and it was a bit of a wake-up call for them.”
Despite four decades of consistent brilliance, George has never had the opportunity to appear in clay shooting’s most important event. The Olympic Games has seen Britain boast reasonable success in Double Trap over the past 15 years, but the country’s greatest shooter has never participated. George said, “It’s almost set up for me not to do it now. If I go out and compete in the Olympics and win, people would expect it, but if I didn’t bring home the gold, the same people would be saying, ‘What happened there?’ There was talk of Compak Sporting making the Olympics in 2020. It would be nice to have a crack at that. I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t like to win an Olympic medal, it gains a huge profile, but I can’t see people’s perception of me changing. If I’d won one world championship and an Olympic medal that would be fantastic, but to win 22 world championships, people aren’t going to say I can’t shoot.”
George’s position would be strong if he made a bid for the Olympics, especially if Compak Sporting was accepted, where he is seeded number one. He also has success in Double Trap, which often goes unreported. In 1993, he broke the world record at the DT World Cup, and in 2002 he won silver in the British Open, but George tells us that he prefers the flair and ability required to compete in the Sporting disciplines, and that FITASC is leading the way. He said, “The organisation has done a fantastic job over the past few years. It’s done a huge amount to grow the sport internationally. All the World FITASC and European FITASC events are sold out with 900-1,000 entries every time. It used to be 300-400. They’ve doubled, sometimes tripled, the entries – which in itself makes the event harder to win and more sought after – and people are prepared to travel for them.”
If anyone has witnessed the rise of the sport over the past 40 years, it’s George. He began clay shooting with his grandfather in 1976, at just 12 years old. He said, “I think the sport is very healthy at the moment and I would like to think I’ve helped build the sport to what it is. I try hard to promote the sport to outsiders, and to bring in different angles to get new people involved in sport. It’s very easy to preach to your own – it’s difficult preaching to others.”
For someone who has won major championships the world over across several decades, George is aware of his role in the sport, yet he maintains an approachable dignity. He is often present at weekend competitions and is happy to interact with fellow competitors. He said, “I regularly shoot four in one day – sometimes I do five or six. A few weeks ago, I shot four and scored two 100-straights, and the week before we went to Canada, Jamie Brightman and I shot four 100-birders. I shot 99 at the first one, and Jamie shot 95, and then he shot 96 and I shot 98, then he shot 97 at the third but I beat him with 98, and finally he shot 93 but I shot 98. I missed seven out of 400. I don’t think Jamie was happy that I shot with him all day.”
A GREAT YEAR
George said this year has been his best ever, but just what exactly did he win in 2013?
– English Sporting:
ICTSF World Championship, World Cup, Pan African Championship, Southdown Grand Masters
FITASC Gold, Pan African Championship, European Championship
European Championship, Romanian Grand Prix, Essex Masters, African Compak (200-straight)
George has also won High Gun at 18 CPSA-reg shoots this year, including four with 100-straight, and two 100s in one day.
It’s this level of respect and camaraderie that makes George one of the most likeable shooters on the circuit, but his approach to winning is purely professional. “I respect the likes of Tiger Woods dominating golf, and Manchester United dominating football. I like to see success. It’s a formula and I like people to take that formula and process it over a period of time.”
Much like these titans of modern sports, George will be meticulously compared to his closest rivals, as well as greats from another era, but he doesn’t believe such comparisons can be drawn. He said, “We could talk about people from different eras until we’re blue in the face but the conditions were different, the amount of people shooting was different, the equipment was different, and the standards in the sport have never been the same as they are today. People in the days of Percy Stanbury used to rock up, have a pint and a sandwich, have a few shots and that was game over, whereas today you’ve got to win over four high-pressure days with a lot of people there. There might have only been 60 or 70 shooters at events in years gone by. It’s all changed a lot, and I’m not taking anything away from those people because you can only compete against who was there, but it was very different to how it is today. Maybe the question isn’t ‘How would we have got on against them,’ but ‘How would they have got on against us?’ How would Tiger have got on in Jack Nicklaus’ era? No one knows because the balls probably travelled 100 yards less than they do today. You can only win in your own era, but luckily I’ve managed to do it in two or three.”
So just how many eras can George Digweed dominate the sport of clay shooting? At 48, he is still 12 years away from being classed as a Veteran, and even then a number of Veterans and Super-Vets are performing to a high standard internationally: “John Bidwell? I have no idea who that is,” George said with a chuckle, before seriously discussing the matter of retirement: “I’ll keep going for the time remaining that I can win at a reasonable level. If this was my best year to date, well, it would be a shame to quit just after this. These days, my thrill is not going out to pull the trigger and shoot targets – I far more enjoy the thrill of the competition. Knowing what you’ve got to do and how you’ve got to do it is a bigger motivation.”
Safe in the knowledge that George will be winning for years gives Clay Shooting hope that the quest to get him nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year doesn’t have to end in 2013. As we’re going to press, panelists are deliberating over whether a man who makes headlines for his use of a shotgun should be shortlisted. In terms of winning the award outright, George has a tough task ahead of him. Andy Murray won his second major this year, and Coral betting give the tennis superstar 1/28 on to win, whereas the king of clay shooting is 125/1.
During winter, George runs his Sporting Agency at Owley in Kent, which has become one of his biggest passions. These days, winning championships around the world pays for him to enjoy this aspect of shooting. He said, “You only ever get out of this sport what you put in. If your technique is sound, you’ll be fairly consistent. To me, clay shooting is more of a job. Setting up a trap and pulling the trigger, or going to a shooting ground and pulling the trigger, is not a hobby for me, but if someone wanted to bet on it then I’d be there like a shot.” And what a shot it would be.
George has been at the top of his game for over 20 years, as these classic Clay Shooting covers show. He first graced the front page in 1991 after winning the British Open, and six BOs later, he starred again. Little has changed, except his age.