XVII Commonwealth Games

XVII Commonwealth Games - Manchester, England 2002
Shooting Report

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Shooter & Fisherman
Rob Stubbs with
a 36 lb. carp

Men's Air Rifle and Air Pistol - Shooting at Bisley 2002
(31 July 2002)
by Rob Stubbs, UK Shooter

For those that aren't familiar with Bisley it is located on the outskirts of London, a few miles from our notorious M25. I live outside London; but, Bisley is almost directly opposite. I could reach it via the M25 or going through the middle of London. I opted for the easy option as I've been there quite a few times before and know the route very well (or so I thought).

I set off from home about 6am so as to have plenty of time to reach Bisley and miss the worst of the rush hour. Shooting events were scheduled to commence at 9am so in theory, I would arrive about 7.30am, an hour and a half early. However in my semi sleepy state I forgot to come of the motorway at the right junction and had to turn around. Of course this extra delay meant I got into more traffic and so a minor detour ended up taking an extra hour.

I arrived at Bisley at just after 8.30am, which meant I wouldn't have to sit around for too long before the events started. I was however a little bit concerned as to how many spectators there would be as it was the Commonwealth Games and it was free entry! Well I needn't have worried, the car park (field) was almost empty and so, it turned out was the range.

The range for the air weapons event was the fairly new Lord Roberts Centre. Air weapons ranges are upstairs with the 50m smallbore ranges being located underneath (not as though you'd notice due to very good sound insulation). Initially I was surprised at how few competitors there were for the first event, men's individual air rifle. I have competed there when probably twice as many firing points were in use, although the modular nature of the building ensures that it can be easily sectioned off into up to three separate 'halls'. I guess when you think of it though there was still 50 firing points which enabled the bigger nations a couple of competitors and the minor nations either one or none (but more could easily have been coped with).

The range incorporates the impressive Sius Ascor electronic targets and is one of the few (or perhaps only) ranges in the UK equipped with them. The targets are black roll of paper in a white card frame. Shots are scored electronically, apparently by triangulating the sound of the pellet passing through. Shooters are able to see immediately where each shot went and it's score. Additionally, each shot is recorded such that at the end a plot can be obtained - ideal for training.

Anyway back to the event. The range was fairly empty, probably only ten or so spectators with another ten or so coaches and of course the officials. I know Chris Hector, England's top air rifle shooter from days gone by, plus he shoots for the same county as myself. So I found him and sat not too far away from him to see how he was doing, and to take some photos of the competitors. At the far end of the range was a large projection screen which displayed the results in strings of ten shots. It was impressive watching the concentration and attention to detail displayed by all the competitors, additionally the dismay when a 9 or heaven forbid an 8 was shot. One thing that was obvious throughout the 1 and hours was the vast difference in the speed of competitors as one shooter had completed his 60 shots in the first hour, before some had shot there second string.

Another thing that was apparent fairly early on was that Chris was not on top form. He had a few low strings whilst the top scores were 100, 99 or 98. After the first three strings Chris was hovering about 6th or 7th although with the different shooting speeds it was difficult to keep track.

As competitors finished there 60 shots, they went and stood by the screen to see their final position and, of course, how the opposition was doing. The top eight competitors were to go through to the finals, which was to be shot an hour later, so all wanted to see if they were in the top 8.

It was apparent that in the very top were two shooters, Bindra of India and Lowndes of Australia, although there were others in very close contention. After the first round heats the top five were as follows:

Rank Name Country Score
1 Abhinav Bindra India 590
2 Timothy Lowndes Australia 589
3 Anowar Hossain Bangladesh 588
4 Sameer Ambekar India 587
5 Asif Hossain Khan Bangladesh 587

With Chris Hector of England in 7th on 584, so at least he had made it to the finals along with Croydon of Wales who was in 8th, on the same score.

The finals were somewhat busier than the heats with probably 100 spectators. I had gone out of the range for an hour. When I returned I had to go back into the main spectator area as there was no space closer to the action. Shooters were all introduced to the crowd and each was greeted with a round of applause. For the finals the projector screen showed the actual target such that each individual shot was displayed almost instantaneously -great for us spectators.

Each round comprised of an instruction to load, followed by a '3, 2, 1 start' command. The shooters then have a maximum of 75 seconds to release their shot. In real time, the crowd could see how each competitor had shot and follow the changes in position. After the first series, the two home nations competitors had swapped places. After the second series places were returned to the start and both competitors shot an equally poor sub nine shot in the 3rd. What was happening elsewhere though was that the lead group was tightening up and the 5th placed Khan of Bangladesh was coming up and the first and second place competitors were tied after the sixth shot. By the ninth round Khan had pulled clear and he held the lead at the end. The final 3 positions were:

Rank Name Country Score
1 Asif Hossain Khan Bangladesh 691.9
2 Abhinav Bindra India 691.4
3 Timothy Lowndes India 590

So Lowndes slipped to third whilst Bindra slipped to second. Khan had a very impressive final, coming from 5th to win and did so with a new Commonwealth Games record score of 691.9. Chris Hector and Croydon both failed to improve there scores and Hector was certainly disappointed not to do better after getting a Bronze in the men's air rifle pairs. Khan however was overjoyed and at just 15 years of age he should be a name to look out for in the future.

The men's air pistol followed shortly after the rifle so I stayed on the range. I decided to sit behind England's Mick Gault - the favourite for the competition, although I was momentarily confused when he changed firing points to the start of the range, from the middle, after technical problems with the monitor. In the air pistol there was a similar number of competitors although spotting their nationality was a little more difficult since most wore plain shirts. As for the rifle the competitors had an hour and 3 quarters, so I made myself comfortable whilst they commenced their sighting shots. With the electronic system competitors press a button on the firing point to commence the competition. Mick Gault appeared quite happy as he didn't fire as many sighting shots as many of the others. However I guess nerves set in as he started with a series of nines before finding the bull. First string was I think a 95, not as well as Mick would have expected but OK. He continued to make hard work out of hitting the 10 and in the third string he managed to hit three consecutive nines before shooting an almost unheard of eight. At the other end of the range the other English competitor was shooting a little better, shooting a 95 and a 97 early on.

After the first 1 hours, after about 3 strings the positions were Rama of India in the lead followed by Van Tonder of South Africa. Mick Gault had managed to stay in third, tied with India's' Jung. Canada's Huot was in a strong 5th position and Nick Baxter was hovering around 7th or 8th. It was obvious that the scores were probably not going to be great as all competitors appeared to be finding it difficult, as was proved when the first round was completed. Nick Baxter had a very disappointing final string shooting 90, which dropped him from a position in the finals to 12th with a score of 565. The top 5 scores were:

Rank Name Country Score
1 Daniel Francois Van Tonder Republic of South Africa 579
2 Samresh Jung India 576
3 Jaspal Rana India 574
4 Michael Gault England 574
5 Roger Daniel Trinidad 573

Canadian shooter J.P. Huot had finished 6th, so he had made the finals along with competitors from New Zealand and Namibia.

The finals were due to start as with the rifle after an hour break, this time however I stayed on the range, and moved closer to the score board and competitors. As before the competitors were introduced to the crowd one by one and the filed in with the highest qualifier shooting in the left firing point, the lowest qualifier to the right. Mick Gault received a rapturous applause although coming into the finals in 4th place, five points behind, seemed like a very tall order.

Competitors set themselves up and had the customary 10 minutes sighting in period after which stop was called. Competitors were instructed to load and then the '3, 2, 1 start' command was given. As with the rifle event in the morning the scores were shown in real time on the large screen. There was a slightly larger audience than for rifle and scores tended to fluctuate, probably due to the increased tension.

After 2 strings positions had changed with Jung and Rana swapping places. Mick Gault was also just 0.5 points behind Jung in third. Nothing changed in the fourth but positions again swapped between Jung and Rana after 5, so back to the initial positions. In the sixth string Van Shot an 8.4 moving him from 1st place straight into third, to gasps from the audience. Mick Gault had mixed successes such that after seven strings he was in 4th,although only by 0.6 points. After the 8th string he'd moved up to second, tied with Van Tonder. In the 9th string Mick had what must have one of the toughest shots ever. It took three attempts to release the shot, and with just a few seconds remaining he released the shot. He turned to the crowd wiping away beads of sweat, with a loud sigh and the venue erupted, he'd managed a 10.8 and had moved into second place with just one shot remaining and was 0.5 points behind Jung of India. The final string saw Jung put in a 9.4 and so the crowd held their breath as one waiting for Mick's final shot. The shot was released and I could see from his monitor that it was a 10+, the scoreboard showed a 10.1 and I knew it was enough. The screen switched from the target over to the positions and once again the venue erupted, Mick has taken the gold, by just 0.2 points with the final shot. Mick slumped into his chair overwhelmed with the sense of victory and obviously emotionally drained from the mental stress. The top three positions were:

Rank Name Country Score
1 Michael Gault England 675.0
2 Samresh Jung India 674.8
3 Jaspal Rana India 674.7

Canada's Jean Pierre Huot had finished a respectable 6th with 669.9.

The medal ceremony followed a short while later and as you would imagine England's Mick Gault received rapturous applause. He had the biggest grin imaginable and reveled in the celebrations as the National Anthem was played.

Overall it was great event. I feel honoured to have been able to witness such a great event and to witness the true sporting achievement of an athlete winning his 7th Commonwealth Gold, and in his home country. Mick followed it up the next day with an equally impressive win in the 50m free pistol. This one being more of a challenge as a result of the handgun ban in the UK forcing all home nations competitors to travel overseas to train.

My only criticism of the whole event is the disappointing lack of coverage afforded to the shooters by the BBC. Not only were the events effectively not featured, the medal wins were given the briefest of coverage. A real shame for all those shooting competitors who made up 10% of the games contingent, third only to the competitors in the athletics and swimming events. Lets hope in future major events the BBC give all sports fair and equal coverage.

Rob Stubbs can be reached at RobStubbs@aol.com

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