Rugby props can often unfairly be dismissed as having “no sense and no feeling” but Matt Coward-Holley certainly bucks that trend.
And his eyes glistened, though perhaps it was the searing temperatures not tears, as he continued Britain’s rich tradition in shooting’s men’s Olympic trap competition with a spirited bronze.
Because Coward-Holley is proof about that old adage of one door closing and another opening. It’s ten years since he lay in a hospital bed after a serious back injury while playing schoolboy rugby, doctors telling him in the strongest terms that unless he found a new sporting ambition, a life in a wheelchair awaited.
Coward-Holley, 26, came in as world and European champion and progressed with ease through the heats to underline his podium potential.
In the final though he missed three of his opening ten shots, his title chance evaporating as the Czech Republic pair of Jiri Liptak and David Kostelecky moved clear to take gold and silver respectively.
However, he showed impressive resilience, hitting 14 in a row to get back into the medal mix.
“To come away with a medal, to be European and World champion, and now Olympic bronze medallist is a little bit surreal,” he said.
“We all come here fighting for gold but, at the end of the day, it’s the Olympics and any medal is phenomenal. It still hasn’t sunk in yet, I think it’s going to take a while to comprehend that medal hanging around my neck.
“It’s nice to get a reward at the end of it, having made all the sacrifices to play rugby and now making all the sacrifices to compete in this. To come away with a medal makes it all worthwhile.
“I didn’t really imagine this until a couple of years ago when I’d broken onto the scene. That was when the Olympic dream became real and it could happen.
“Going to an Olympics was always a dream but it doesn’t quite sink in that you could go and win medals until you’re close to the event.”
Coward-Holley is the third British shooter in the last 20 years to make the podium in the event, following Sydney 2000 silver medallist Ian Peel and Ed Ling’s bronze at Rio 2016.
Britain’s shooting team arrived in Tokyo with high expectations of success, Coward-Holley, Amber Hill and Seonaid McIntosh all showing their world-class credentials on the road to the Games.
Hill was meant to get the team off to a flyer but was forced to stay home after testing positive for coronavirus.
And that put the pressure on Coward-Holley, with McIntosh’s signature event still ahead on Saturday.
“As a team, it was a massive blow, we all know how hard she worked to get here and our hearts went out to Amber,” he added.
“As a team, we all took it differently. It took everyone their own time to get over it but she was fully behind us from home, it was hard for everybody.
“There’s a very different buzz to an Olympics, even with no crowds there’s a very different atmosphere.
“It’s a smaller field but you’ve got 25 of the world’s best competing. I hope to go to as many Olympics as I possibly can. With the support of everyone at home, I hope to compete in future Olympics.
“When you look at it, very few people actually win medals at an Olympics compared to the number that compete. So to be on the rostrum and win a medal is a great feeling.”
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