Golden visions out of the blue

Richard Faulds (clay pigeon shooter)
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When Richard Faulds was nine years old, he fired his first shot. He had to rest the barrel of the gun on his father's arm as he pulled the trigger to discharge the cartridge. The makeshift method failed to disturb his aim and the scuttling rabbit in his sights duly succumbed.

As portents go, it was, like the shot, stunningly accurate. Not many targets, moving or still, alive or inanimate, have avoided the Faulds trigger finger since. It was only 10 years ago, but so unerringly proficient with a shotgun has he been throughout that time that he will go to Atlanta today with genuine hopes of securing gold at the age of 19.

"The field is such that anybody could win it," he said, as you would expect him to. "But I've never felt as confident with my shooting in my life. It will probably come down to one momentary loss of concentration. There will be maybe three or four points, and no more, between the qualifiers, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's a shoot-off for the six places in the final. I don't mind. I seem to shoot better under pressure. It concentrates me somehow."

Faulds is taking part in the double trap clay pigeon event which is making its first appearance at the Games. Unlike more conventional trap shooting, in which competitors are allowed two shots to bring down a single clay, this gives them two shots at two clays. It requires nerve, reflexes and a cool head.

"As you get rid of the first cartridge, you've got to be concentrating on the second shot," Faulds said. "There may be a temptation to check the results of your effort but you've got to avoid it. You've got maybe half a second to react or otherwise the chance has gone."

The rabbit from a decade ago would no doubt testify, were he still with us, that Faulds is a natural shot. Perhaps as the son of a farmer Faulds had a headstart in the sport, but he has not wasted a single moment. By the time he was 13 he was a significant player in national junior competitions, and he is still two years short of being a senior. Most of his opponents in Atlanta, including his fellow Briton Kevin Gill, will be in their thirties.

Faulds is concerned about the heat more than the fellows who will reload alongside him. There will be no three-sided shelter, as he has become accustomed to in most competitions, because the Olympic Games' are among the few shooting events to attract television cameras. There is not a spare ounce on him, but he has been swimming to increase his fitness and ensure he will not wilt in the Georgia humidity.

For weeks he has been practising when and if he pleased - "it's a real bonus being able to shoot just when you want to" - having taken leave from his instructor's job at the Royal Berkshire Shooting School in Pangbourne. The family has spent pounds 20,000 on building a clay pigeon range on their farm in the Hampshire village of Longparish. (Hitherto, Longparish's sporting celebrity has been confined to its cricket team, which won the National Village Cricket Championship in 1987.) He is sponsored for his cartridges: the clays cost pounds 50 a thousand, and thus he spends pounds 20 or so each time he practises.

Faulds's record seems all the more formidable for his being so collected about it. His mum is clearly more distracted about forthcoming events than he is. "It will be the longest day of my life," she said. Her son has been world junior champion three times in the sporting clay discipline - not part of the Olympics - and he has also won two world senior sporting silvers. He started double trap when he and a few shooting colleagues organised a light-hearted ad hoc match during another contest.

Nobody will be surprised if he becomes the first Briton since Bob Braithwaite in 1968 to win a clay pigeon shooting medal. Nobody, that is, except perhaps his former school PE teacher, whom Faulds fondly recalls. "He once wrote on a school report that I wasn't much good at sports because I had no hand-eye co-ordination."