Richard Faulds: The Golden Shot takes aim

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The Independent Online

As he prowls between shooting positions, there is an apparent nonchalance about the manner in which Richard Faulds prepares to down his prey during two practise rounds at Bisley Shooting Ground. In this discipline, the double trap, two targets are thrown up simultaneously, following set paths. The shooter has one attempt at each. Today, on 99 out of 100 occasions, the clay pigeons are converted into dust trails. God help the real things if this character had been contracted to eliminate them at Wimbledon. Then we'd have witnessed some accurate volleys.

"It's ideal conditions, no wind, and I'm under no pressure whatsoever...just enjoying myself," Faulds explains. "You'd expect to do that." No. Let's be precise. The world No 1, blessed with an efficiency honed since childhood, would expect to do that. Yet he knows Beijing on 12 August – the date coincides with that famous date in Britain's shooting calendar, the Glorious Twelfth – will be different, even though the gold medallist in the double trap at Sydney, and among the favourites to repeat that feat next month, says he is on top of his game.

In last month's World Cup in Suhl, Germany, he equalled the world record score of 147 (out of 150) in the qualification round before claiming gold. But how to translate that form into Olympic gold? "Ultimately you're doing nothing different to what you do in training and in reality you're shooting against the same people you're up against eight or 10 times a year in competition.

"But you have to ignore the big picture, forget this is the Olympics, just concentrate on what you're doing, not look at anyone else shooting next to you, or worrying about what people have shot, just concentrate on those two plays at that particular time, and if at the end you've hit more than anyone else you win. It's simple."

If ever a man was born to be a crack-shot it is the 31-year-old from Southampton. Laid-back to a fault, he is as chilled as an industrial refrigerator, both on and off the clay pigeon range here on the Surrey "killing" fields. Faulds jokes that it is a deceptive impression. "Like a swan, aren't I? All graceful on the surface but all panic underneath. No, I'm quite fortunate. It takes a lot to get me really wound up. Shooting is a sport where you need to stay calm, relaxed and focused. If you've got the shakes [self-mockingly he makes his trigger-hand tremble, a bit like Gene Wilder's Waco Kid character in Blazing Saddles] that's obviously not the best thing in the world."

Ask him to recall his most treasured moment from eight years ago, and Faulds asks, with a smile: "You mean apart from flying home from Sydney downing champagne for 24 hours?" That followed his achievement in prising gold from the grasp of the home favourite and defending champion Russell Mark, as the Aussie appeared poised for victory. The Briton had been only fourth going into the final round, but produced a remarkable performance to force a shoot-off. Faulds proceeded to secure Britain's first gold medal in trap shooting since Bob Braithwaite in 1968.

However, he concedes candidly: "The sport has moved on a lot since Sydney. The general talent around the world has got better. It was a fantastic performance in 2000 but I'm not sure it would be good enough to win in six weeks' time. That said, I feel I've improved since then. I feel I've got mentally stronger. I can cope better when there's a real pressure situation. Also I've got a family now. That makes so much difference to how you feel within yourself." In Beijing, he'll have his partner Tanya and their nine-month-old son Charlie coming over to support him.

These days there are also sophisticated technological aids to performance. On the day we met, Faulds and his GB team-mates were testing an electronic timing device developed by BAE Systems that for the first time will enable national coaching staff to measure the consistency of timing between two shots in the double trap to 0.01 of a second, both in training and in competition.

You remind Faulds that some question the validity of any Olympic activity involving guns, following Dunblane and more recent highly publicised shootings. "Shooting is a sport, like any other. We're not lunatics. We're perfectly ordinary people," he says. "People who have licences are the most law-abiding citizens and have got to be the most squeaky-clean people out there. At the end of the day, people kill people. Not guns."

Faulds speaks with the authority of a man who has been around guns virtually all his life. "I was fortunate that as soon as I picked up one I was reasonably good reasonably quickly," he says. "I was fortunate that my hobby has become my job. I get up every day and look forward to going to work." He adds wryly: "Olympic gold medals don't pay the rent, certainly in shooting, but it's what I love doing."

In Athens four years ago, Faulds failed to qualify for the final, and that is one reason why he insists: "I never feel I should put my neck on the line and say 'I'm going to win a medal' but I'd like to think I could make the final, move forward from there and, fingers crossed, finish in a medal position." A case, surely, of the calm before the storming of the Olympic medal vaults.