High winds spike Gibbins' hopes

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The Independent Online

When the going gets tough for the British at the Olympics you can usually rely on the marksmen to shoot their way out of trouble. For the last 20 years the nation's top guns have been regular contributors to Britain's medal tallies, from Malcolm Cooper's golds in Los Angeles and Seoul to Richard Faulds' triumph in Sydney.

Usually. On Sunday Ian Peel, who was fancied to build on his silver medal from four years ago, could finish only 19th in the men's trap. Yesterday it was the turn of Sarah Gibbins, the only woman in Britain's six-strong team, to be blown away in the women's competition.

The new Markopoulo Olympic Shooting Centre is a splendid facility, offering fine viewing for spectators - of whom there were plenty yesterday - and excellent indoor facilities. The only problem is the area where it is sited, 30 miles south-east of the city centre, is regularly troubled by high winds, particularly in August.

Gibbins, a 34-year-old primary school teacher from Northampton, made a sound start to the trap competition - clay-pigeon shooting at single targets (the double trap shooters fire at two targets) - and was in joint third place at the end of the first round with 21 hits from 25 shots. However, as the wind got up, Gibbins' hit-rate went down. A bad spell in the second round (17 hits) dropped her to equal ninth, which she could not improve upon thanks largely to three misses in the middle of her third round (20 hits, including the last 12 in a row). The top six women went on to the final round, with Australia's Suzanne Balogh taking the gold.

"I came here expecting at least to get into the final and, hopefully, win a medal, but it wasn't my day today," Gibbins said. "I've never shot in conditions as ferocious as that. Of course, we're used to not having the best weather back home, but in that case we usually shoot under covers, so you're at least shielded from the wind. I'm used to the targets deviating in the wind, but not being physically thrown by it.

"It probably helped to be physically strong, and it was also an advantage for those competitors who were short and stocky, because they were able to crouch down low. I'm probably between the two and in these conditions I suffered because of it.

"The siting of the shooting venue here perhaps wasn't the best idea, because the area is prone to wind. And shooting is a sport that is directly affected by the wind. When we shot the test event here back in April it was also very windy, though unfortunately for me it was pretty calm on my day."

When Gibbins reflects on her performance, however, she should take much pride in it, having competed in the sport for only four years. She used to be an event rider, but gave up after dislocating her shoulder once too often. Her thirst for competition made her switch to another sport.

Jenny Gibbins, her mother, who was watching nervously in the stand ("I've been shaking all day") with other members of the family, said: "I knew from the word go that Sara would compete in something when she grew up. She's been competitive all her life. She wanted to be good at horse-riding, but as well as the injuries I think she felt she hadn't really got the depth to dig deep enough to do it properly, which is why she switched to shooting. But if it wasn't shooting it would have been something else."

Gibbins' sister, Emma, added: "I thought Sarah performed excellently, under very difficult conditions."

At least the British team have their joker to play today, with Faulds defending his double trap title. The Sydney hero was a sympathetic spectator yesterday. "It's a shame for Sarah," he said. "You work really hard for four years to get to this event and it comes down to pot luck. Life's a bitch. And then you die."

However, Faulds says he will not be troubled by Britain's disappointing results so far. "Although we're here as a team, it's an individual event and I'm very much an individual person," he said. "You can't let other people's disappointments drag you down. I'm here for myself, to win for me.

"You don't want conditions like they were today, but I think that's what we're going to get. For me a breeze would be ideal, but you've just got to get on with what you get. All last week the conditions were perfect and 47 was a pretty mediocre score in the double trap. I've shot nine rounds and I've averaged 48 since I've been here. If you average 48 tomorrow you'll win by about 30 shots.

"I'm even more motivated to win the gold medal than last time. I am going out there with the attitude that it is mine and they are going to have to take it away from me. I'm not going to let them do that."