Faulds folds as Al Maktoum triumphs

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The Independent Online

The family name alone, Al Maktoum, offered more than a scintilla of suspicion that we could expect something special. Never mind that victory normally materialises in the form of blue-blooded bloodstock rather from the barrel of a shotgun. No matter. Ahmed Al Maktoum, a member of the powerful horse-racing dynasty from Dubai, duly claimed gold, to borrow the Turf vernacular, in a canter.

The family name alone, Al Maktoum, offered more than a scintilla of suspicion that we could expect something special. Never mind that victory normally materialises in the form of blue-blooded bloodstock rather from the barrel of a shotgun. No matter. Ahmed Al Maktoum, a member of the powerful horse-racing dynasty from Dubai, duly claimed gold, to borrow the Turf vernacular, in a canter.

His sport: clay pigeon shooting. Or to give the technical term, the men's double trap. Incidentally, did you know they used to shoot the real thing in this event? Alright, settle down. They haven't done so since the 1900 Paris Olympics, after which the practice was decreed "unethical and unsporting".

In today's Olympic event, 200 clay equivalents are substituted for those original unfortunate birds and released in pairs. This phenomenal competitor obliterated 189 of them at the Markopoulo Shooting Centre.

It was shooting at its most devastatingly accurate. Such markmanship is like something out of a Clint Eastwood movie - but for real. Al Maktoum, 40, representing the United Arab Emirates, broke one Olympic record in qualifying, then equalled another with his final score.

In truth, even if Britain's Sydney gold medallist, Richard Faulds, in whom so much confidence had been invested beforehand, had not been betrayed by his nerves in a calamitous first round it's doubtful whether he could have lived with a man who describes himself as "a cousin" of Sheikhs Hamdan and Mohammed. The latter is the Crown Prince of Dubai.

After the British disappointments in the pool, Faulds' failure on the pull had not been forecast. Yet, put it to Faulds that, even at the zenith of his powers, he would still have struggled to maintain contact with the man from the UAE, and he insists: "If I'd had been at 100 per cent, I'd have been within a bird or two of him [in qualification]," he stressed. "Then, if you get in the final that close, anything can happen."

However, Faulds, a 27-year-old farmer's son from Longparish, Hampshire, added: "In all fairness to Maktoum, he shot out of his skin. He's been shooting very well for the past two or three years. He's no mean competitor."

That is scarcely any great surprise. Al Maktoum has handled a gun since the age of four, when he first joined his father on hunting expeditions. Curiously, though, he only embarked on shooting as a serious sport since the age of 34. In his twenties and thirties, he was the UAE national squash champion.

He was asked about his absence from the glorious triumphs enjoyed by the family bloodstock empire. Al Maktoum smiled broadly. "I love horses but I have no time to focus on more than one sport," he replied. "I never thought I could become an Olympic champion, but shooting is in my blood. Once you have the skills and talent as a hunter, all you have to do is follow the modern shooting technique."

Faulds' talent was nurtured within the more orthodox confines of the shooting school, a birthday present from his father. "It's a dream come true. Somebody smack me," he said famously after attaining the pinnacle of his aspirations, that Sydney success. Yesterday, he must have felt like chastising himself after failing to attain a final-six place which meant he missed the shoot-off.

Faulds never quite received the recognition his 2000 Gold merited. He is the only one of the 11 Sydney gold medallists still to appear on TV's A Question of Sport. Now, you suspect, he never will.

As he waited, frustrated, to view the final shoot-off from the stands, Faulds conceded: "I'm bitterly disappointed. Obviously, I came here expecting to win a medal again, but I didn't have the best of starts. Defending a gold medal, as I now know, is a lot harder than winning one in the first place. It will take some getting over, but there's always four years' time [in Beijing] - maybe."

It has not been British shooting's finest week. Ian Peel and Sarah Gibbins finished out of the medals in their events, too. Michael Babb in the 50m rifle prone remains to reclaim British pride. As John Leighton-Dyson, the Great Britain team leader, reflected: "Richard gave it his best shot [he did actually say that]. On the day it hasn't quite happened."

For Al Maktoum, it certainly did ... a man whose relatives would confirm was a sure shot, not a long shot.

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