British Shooting’s Grand Festival saw a welcome return to top level competition for our elite shooters. James Marchington reports
It’s been a tough year for elite sport – shooting included – with ranges closed and our top shots unable to follow their training. International competitions were called off, and British Shooting reluctantly had to cancel their 2020 Shotgun Series, which would have provided a series of competitions around the country for Olympic Trap and Olympic Skeet shooters, culminating in a Grand Final like that held at Fauxdegla the last couple of years.
It looked as if 2020 would be a total washout for the Olympic disciplines – but all credit to British Shooting, they staged a fantastic event at East Yorkshire Clay Shooting Ground on 11-13 September, The British Shooting Grand Festival.
Around 130 athletes took part, with a practice day on the Friday followed by two days of competition. The East Yorkshire ground and British Shooting had taken every precaution over Covid-19, with everyone temperature scanned on arrival at the ground, signs everywhere, and sanitiser available all around the site.
A one-way system was in operation in the clubhouse as well as on the shooting stands, and social distancing was enforced. It all made for a rather different atmosphere, but everyone soon settled into the ‘new normal’ and competitors were able to focus on the job in hand.
Each discipline was shot over 125 targets over two days, with finals following on immediately after qualification on the Sunday. British Shooting had arranged for scores to be updated as quickly as possible on YouTube as well as their website, aware that many people would want to follow shooters’ progress but be unable to attend the competition.
As the scores built up, the familiar names were soon rising to the top of the leaderboard, and it was clear that lockdowns and restricted training hadn’t affected their ability to smash the clays.
In Olympic Trap Nathan Hales, for instance, was on fire, shooting 25, 24, 25, 25 and 24 for a total of 123 ex-125, while Matt Coward-Holley was just two targets behind on 121, with Aaron Heading close on his heels with 120. It was equally tight in the Olympic Skeet, Freddie Killander leading with 123 ex-125, followed closely by Ben Llewellin on 121 and Jack Fairclough on 120.
The shoot was running like clockwork, and soon there were finals taking place up and down the long row of layouts at East Yorkshire – which it must be said is looking very good with a lot of refurbishments and improvements since the Hall family took over running the ground.
It was more impressive than ever with all the British Shooting stands, flags and banners set up for the event. And there was even a PA system playing music out over the car park and clubhouse area, helping to create the atmosphere of a major competition.
There was some superb shooting on display, and many notable achievements. For every single competitor, an event like this is a landmark on their journey as an athlete, but inevitably some individuals’ successes stand out.
Lewis Owen, for instance, achieved his first Junior Trap gold of the British Shooting event series, having won multiple silver and bronzes. He said “It’s fantastic. All through lockdown I was putting the training in, and in the lead-up to this event, so I’m really glad I’ve peaked at this point. I’ve just been accepted onto the GB Academy as well, which is fantastic, so it’s only upwards from here.”
Jack Fairclough, winner in the senior Olympic Skeet, said “It was a great battle, especially that last ten. That really is what’s fun about this sport, just battling it out. The targets were amazing, so a big thank you to the Halls and British Shooting for putting on a great show. “
Maddie Boyd, winner of the junior women’s Olympic Skeet, summed up the feelings of many when she said: “It’s been a really good end to the year. The last time I competed was February.
You go all those months without. Everything should have happened this year and obviously got cancelled. It was really great to have everyone here and just be able to come back and have a good competition.