Teenager James Huckle is a shooting star in every sense. As Britain's bandwagon rolls on towards London 2012 the 19-year-old Essex marksman has been targeted as a future Olympic medallist. His prowess with the rifle has already brought him three gold medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games and another at the Australian Youth Olympics in a sport that has been something of a pariah in Britain since the Dunblane massacre.
"It's strange that I have ended up in shooting because both my parents were pretty much anti-weapons," he says. "They hated the idea of one of their children [he is one of triplets] playing around with guns, but dad had this air rifle because we lived in a farmhouse with two-and-a-half acres of land and there was a rat problem.
"I persuaded him to let me borrow the rifle but he said if I wanted to use it properly it was best I joined a club. I went on Google to find one but my parents still weren't too keen on the idea, because weapons were a bit of a taboo subject for young people, or pretty much anyone, at that time.
"At school I was into much more mainstream sports like athletics, tennis and judo, so they thought it was just a passing fad. I didn't even know it was in the Olympics.
"It has always been my dream to compete in the Olympics and I always thought I'd do it for something like athletics [he was a county runner] or one of the other sports I was into. But once I joined a club I began to enjoy it. I did a few local competitions and I found that I liked it more than any other sport.
"I was always fascinated by the idea that you could press the trigger at one end of the gun and direct such enormous power out of the other end."
He saved up to buy his first competitive rifle at 16. "I'd been nagging my mum to take me to Bisley and when we went, by chance the British junior development squad were training there. I got invited for a weekend practice and it was only then that I found out shooting was in the Olympics.
"It really opened my eyes as to what I could be doing. From then on I concentrated on the Olympic disciplines. I went to my first international in 2006 and I have never looked back really."
Now he is a full-time shooter with a range at his home in Harlow, where he practises daily. He also spends three hours a day, four days a week working out at a local gym. "You have to be as physically fit as any athlete in any other sport. If you ask someone to hold up a rifle weighing between eight and 12kg, standing up without moving for three-and-a-half hours, I doubt they'd be able to do it.
"The discipline I enjoy most is probably the 50 metres three-position. It's also the one that is most difficult, because it requires you to be in three positions on one day. Unfortunately, in Britain shooting is not a very big sport. It's not until you go to somewhere like Germany you realise the sheer scale of interest there. It's a bit like golf is in Britain.
"There is still a bit of a political problem with the sport here, particularly the pistol shooters. I suppose you could say it's not a politically correct sport from the sheer nature of the fact that we are using weapons. What people forget is that it is the third biggest sport in the Olympic medal count."
Huckle left school with decent GCSEs and went on to college. "While I was always interested in sport, I thought I might be a mathematician or scientist. But when the invitation came to shoot for Great Britain I knew that was what I wanted to do, especially as the Olympics were going to be held in London and more funding was coming along. I decided to dedicate my life to something I really enjoy and then pick up my education later.
"My parents really support me now. Although they were worried about me shooting at first – they didn't want their kid going round with a gun – they realised that the way we use it is just like a javelin: it's a piece of sporting equipment."
He has a sister, Rosie, and a brother, Andrew. "We are completely different people. We went for years at school without people realising we were triplets because we are all individuals both to look at and to speak to."
Shooting, he says, is one of those sports where you mature with age. "The most successful shooters seem to be middle-aged, but I feel I am reaching the point where I can make the final in 2012. But this could be the stepping stone to 2016 or even 2020."
His most recent success was two silver and three bronze medals in last month's Commonwealth Shooting Championships in Delhi. "I will definitely medal in 2012," he vows. "But for now I just want to keep hitting that target and concentrate on improving as much as I can."
The boy with the golden gun is certainly worth a shot.
British Olympic Association
The British Olympic Association (BOA), formed in 1905, are the national Olympic committee for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They prepare and lead the nation's finest athletes at the summer, winter and youth Olympic Games, and deliver world-leading services to enable success for athletes and their national governing bodies. For more information, go to olympics.org.uk
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