Shooting: Peter Wilson of Team GB thanks coach for gold

Briton was working in a pub after having his funding cut – now he is Olympic champion

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So significant was the part played by the ruling Al Maktoum family of Dubai in Great Britain’s winning the shooting gold medal in the double trap yesterday that the young winner Peter Wilson climbed over a fence to grab his coach, Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum and blurted in a tearful embrace: “This man deserves all the praise.”

The Sheikh, who had won gold in this event in 2004, has refused to accept any payment since the unlikely pair hooked up together after his retirement four years ago. “I told him that I don’t coach for money,” he said with the strains of “It’s A Beautiful Day” ringing round Woolwich Barracks. “But I said ‘I am not going to be nice, I will be tough with you.” Money, he believes, does not make winners,: “No champions come on a red carpet. Look at Pele and Maradona.”

Wilson, the well-spoken Millfield School product and son of a Dorset stud farmer, was not exactly born with a plastic spoon in his mouth, but it was a blow when Britain’s shooters had their funding cut for a year after a poor showing in Beijing four years ago.

“That is difficult as an elite athlete and I thought about giving up,” he said. “I started to work in a pub to cover costs. But it just wasn't possible. It was late nights and early mornings and it was destroying my shooting. So it has been an incredible journey.

“Then Sheikh Maktoum came on board and he was a great help. He is an Olympic gold medallist – he won by 10 targets and I won by two – and one of the most technically proficient shotgun shooters in the world. He knows more about shotgun shooting than anyone else. How lucky was I to team up with him in 2008 and then get my funding back?”

Like a number of Britain’s recently discovered heroes and heroines, he found his real sporting metier only by accident; after damaging his shoulder in a snowboarding accident, he was unable to continue with cricket and squash and turned to shooting, despite it not being the most obvious choice with a bad shoulder. Within six months he had won a European junior champion.

Still only 25, Wilson he was the youngest competitor by 12 years in yesterday’s final, which the six contestants went into with only six hits between them. Crucially, Wilson had a lead of three from the morning’s qualifying session in which the  Olympic champion Walton Eller and world No 1 Joshua Richmond were both eliminated along with Britain’s Richard Faulds, the Sydney gold medal winner, who was 12th.

In the double trap, often known as clay pigeon shooting – at the first Olympics real pigeons were used -  two targets are released simultaneously and shooters taking turns have about a third of a second to nail both of them. The accuracy in the final was staggering and not until the tenth round did any of the leading three contenders miss one.  Wilson did so then and for four nervous rounds had his lead cut to one over the Russian Vasily Mosin.

 With ten rounds left he looked comfortable with a lead of four but then came another bad moment, missing both shots and allowing the 46 year-old Swede Hakan Dahlby to close to two hits.  “I almost always know why I miss but I have no idea why I did there,” he said. “The targets may just have moved off line, so I kept fairly relaxed about it.”

If such composure was admirable, he admitted “the gun was shaking” during the last four pairs, when he held onto a lead of two and fell to the ground in celebration. Dahlby took the silver medal and in a shoot-off to which little attention was being paid as Britons in the capacity crowd celebrated, Russia’s Mosin won the bronze.  

“It felt pretty good,” Wilson said with typical understatement. “I had one goal in mind today and that was to go into the final with a lead. The years of training got me through those last four pairs. Now I’m going to get very, very drunk.”