Back home on the moors of Britain, it was the Glorious Twelfth, the traditional start of the grouse shooting season. Over here in China on the Beijing Shooting Range, for Richard Faulds the Olympic shooting season finished with a not so glorious sixth.
Beneath the hills to the north of the Chinese capital, with the sound of the crickets clicking amid the crack of gunfire, the Hampshire man's hopes of a second Olympic gold did not exactly go up in puffs of smoke in the double trap final. Indeed, it was getting the red clay ‘pigeons' to explode into red showers of dust that proved to be his problem.
Lying in fourth place after morning qualifying, Faulds started in the kind of blazing form that made him a golden shot in Sydney eight years ago, double-shooting the two targets released into the air in the first six of the 25 rounds. At that stage he was gunning for bronze, within striking range of Hu Binyaun, the shooter from Shanghai whose every hit was met with a burst of cheers from the natives packing the spectator stand. The trouble was the third-placed Chinese competitor kept splattering his targets.
Hu's first miss came in round 12 and by the 17th round Faulds had four misses on the scoreboard. A further three air-shots followed as the Briton, who arrived in Beijing ranked number one in the world, slipped down the order to sixth and last. With a score of 43 from the final and 180 from the competition overall, Faulds missed the bronze medal by four points and the gold by ten.
He smiled ruefully when reminded of his pre-Games observation that it was one thing hitting 99 out of every 100 on the practice ground but quite another doing the same in the pressure cooker of an Olympic final. "No matter how much you train for it, you cannot recreate this situation," he said. "It only comes round once every four years and you only have that one-off chance.
"I did make the final and I was pleased to do that. You always come to win; you always want a medal. But a lot of people would have loved to have been in my shoes. I've been to four Olympics, made three finals and won a gold medal, so I don't think I've done too badly over the years. Another Olympic medal would have been fantastic but I've come here, tried my hardest and I haven't got one…so back to the drawing board."
Which is what Walton Eller – or, to give him his full title, Walton Glenn Eller III – was obliged to do when he travelled to the Sydney Games in 2000 with gold medal hopes and finished out of the medal frame after contracting food poison from a ham sandwich. Eight years on, the 28-year-old Texan, a member of the US Army Marksmanship Unit, savoured the sweet taste of success, winning with an Olympic record score of 190 points. "Being a soldier in the US Army, I do what is expected of me," he said. "They asked me to come to Beijing and win the gold. I don't know how better to represent them than by doing that."
After taking the gold in Sydney, Faulds spent the 24 hour flight home drinking champagne. Yesterday, as he prepared to join his partner, Tanya, and their ten-month-old son, Charlie, to pack for the long haul home today, he was reluctant to commit himself to a fifth Olympic appearance, even if the next Games happen to be on British soil.
"Oh, I don't know," he said, when asked about London 2012. "It's four years to go yet. We'll see…We'll see. A lot of water's got to pass under the bridge between now and then."
Not that Faulds will be of pensionable sporting age by then. He will have just turned 35. Oscar Swahn was 60 when he won an Olympic shooting gold in the London Games of 1908, in the long-discontinued running deer single shot. Then again, the Swede was still in his relative youth at the time. He won a team silver in 1920 in Antwerp, aged 72. It could yet be a glorious 2012th for Southampton's finest marksman since the Saintly Matthew Le Tissier.Reuse content