British shooting has a great tradition of winning at the Olympics. Lucy Higginson talks to our Team GB shooting athletes about their techniques and training
Team GB shooting are a hugely diverse but incredibly dedicated group, all in with a good chance of winning gold at Rio. Lucy Higginson meets the athletes to find out more about their technique, training and what tips they have for game shooters.
Find out about the real country behind the headlines of the Olympic host, read what to see and do in Brazil.
TEAM GB SHOOTING
Some of Team GB shooting are in their forties and veterans of two Olympic Games; one is barely out of school. The Team GB shooting for Rio is a diverse but dedicated group and any of its members could win a medal. In this sport, you never quite know which of the world’s top 20 is going to dazzle on the day. “Getting to the Olympics is one thing; getting to the finals is another,” says Peter Wilson, who won gold in the double trap in London. None of the six heading to Rio has yet made an Olympic final.
So what does that take? “They will need to be well practised, in the form of their lives and they’ll need to play down the expectation,” replies Wilson. “You can’t really prepare for the pressure, that’s the allure of the Olympics.”
These often-ignored athletes – “Thank you so much for taking an interest,” said one after our interview – train largely in solitude, sometimes around a day job, which is remarkable in elite sport today. “You have to be quite self-sufficient. I enjoyed training on my own,” says Wilson. “Quite often you have to take yourself apart and take steps back before going forward, and miss a bit in the process – I always struggled to do that in front of other people.”
Beyond that, Wilson’s best advice for our team is to leave no stone unturned in their preparation. “To know that whether I came first or last I could have done no more took a great deal of pressure off me.”
TEAM GB SHOOTING: ED LING
Age 33, Olympic Trap
Veteran of two Olympics (Athens and London), Ling has the form to make the final: silver at the 2014 World Championships was followed by fourth last year at the European Games. At the test event in Rio he was pleased to win a nine-man shoot-off that included three former Olympic champions for a place in the final, finishing sixth. “It was quite a drawn-out shoot-out and I put a lot of effort and concentration into that, which may have hampered me a bit in the final.”
From Somerset farming stock, Ling is now Lottery funded. He says he “definitely does not shoot full time”, working on the family beef, arable and free-range chicken farm. He laughs when I ask about fitness work. “I work on the farm and that’s all. I’m not going to change how I do things. I believe it’s right and it’s got me to where I am today.”
Although he’s competing every weekend by the summer, “through the week I will shoot some targets but it depends how I feel and what the weather’s like”. Ling trains with his father, brother and wife, Abi, at a range on the farm. He makes the most of local clay events, too, even if they’re in a non-Olympic format. “It’s better than standing in a line all the time.”
TEAM GB SHOOTING: AMBER HILL
Age 18, Olympic Skeet
Team GB shooting has a potential media gold-mine in Amber Hill. At just 18, she is pint-sized, glamorous, talented (European Games Skeet champion in 2015 and ranked fifth in the world at the time of writing) and cool under pressure. Although she’s never shot game, she tried some sporting clays with her grandfather at EJ Churchill’s shooting ground, where she trains, and proved a natural. In 2014, she quit school after GCSEs to pursue her Olympic dream, supported by Lottery funding and the Challenger Programme (backed by luxury watch brand Christopher Ward).
Hill shoots three or four times a week for half a day and tries to work with her coach, Joe Neville from Matlock, every two weeks. “We’re working now on how I shoot with other people and what I do between rounds.” Being only 5ft 2in, Hill works with a strength and conditioning coach on her upper body and core, visiting the gym four or more times a week.
Her custom-made Perazzi is smaller than a game gun, “because there is so much movement in the shot”. With ever immaculate hair and nails (she has a beauty qualification but is secretive about her varnish plan for Rio), Hill’s gun is equally well groomed. “It is sprayed in bright colours just to show my personality.”
She shoots pink cartridges, developed with Eley. “They are still quality cartridges but a little bit of fun.” Despite her girly side, Hill oozes maturity. “I don’t work with a sports psychologist. I’ve taught myself to keep it as simple as possible. I know what I’m there to do and it comes quite naturally to switch off from things going on around me, run through my dry mounts, my routines, and just focus on the target. ” Shooting, she says, should be all about “enjoyment and staying positive”. Though she did not perform as well as hoped at Rio’s April test event, she reasons, “I know what I need to work on. I am definitely going for gold, as I do in every competition. But as long as I feel I could not have done any more, I am just going to enjoy being an Olympian.”
TEAM GB SHOOTING: TIM KNEALE
Age 33, Olympic Double Trap
As a farmer’s son on the Isle of Man, it was inevitable that Kneale would shoot. More fortuitous was that he lived 10 minutes from the local shooting school and that the Isle of Man decided to invest in an Olympic trench layout to develop shooting ahead of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. When a broken leg curtailed his rugby aspirations, Kneale started shooting seriously. Aged 20, he won a bronze medal at the World Championships in the Olympic Double Trap and in 2014 he set a new world record. But it’s only with Rio selection, his first Olympics, that he has stopped work (in agriculture) to shoot full time as part of Team GB shooting. Not that this necessarily includes scores of clays each day. “Working full-time in the past I’ve learned to train smart. I don’t shoot thousands of clays but I’ll go with a clear focus of what I want to work on.” This is just as well, since Kneale now lives in Somerset and travels to Nuthampstead Shooting Club in Hertfordshire to train with GB’s double trap coach, Martin Barker. He also works with British Shooting psychologist Paul Hughes but playfully declines to elaborate. “That’s top secret. We do a lot of planning work – preparing for different scenarios.”
Kneale uses the competitive clay shooter’s favourite gun, a Perazzi, with a customised German-made stock, “and 2½in of elevated rib. The comb on the stock is lifted as well. It’s more of an upright shooting position so your eyes are in a more natural position.”
His advice for game shooters is, “To have some sort of routine, feedback and consistency. Without feedback you can’t identify what’s working. And be rational – missing the first bird does not make the day a disaster.”
Age 44, Olympic Skeet
Russian-born Elena Allen lives in Newport, Gwent, and has contested the past two Olympics. In London she was devastated not to make the final but took bronze at the World Championships the following year, and a silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games as part of the Welsh team.
Asked how she sustains her enthusiasm over the years, she replies, “By game-shooting and deerstalking in the winter,” when she takes a complete break from skeet. “I wouldn’t want to be shooting five days a week 12 months of the year.” Is she as good on the peg as on the range? “I’m really good on woodcock. But it doesn’t really help much on pheasants. Gun mounting isn’t a problem but you need to do a bit of sporting really to be good at it.”
Stalking is also the bedrock of her fitness campaign, as past excursions to the gym have resulted in injury. “I think natural fitness is the best,” she says now.
Since 2013, Allen has trained exclusively with her husband, Malcolm, sometimes analysing her technique on slow-motion video. She shoots Italian cartridges with a 12-bore from gunmaker Renato Gamba, who also sponsors her. “It’s part of me, I love the way it moves and responds,” she says of her gun.
Her goal in Rio is to make the final – “one target at a time” – and she hopes the Olympic adrenalin will serve her well. “Adrenalin sharpens your senses and gives you an edge. When I don’t have it, I don’t shoot well.”
TEAM GB SHOOTING: STEVE SCOTT
Age 31, Double Trap
Having competed in Beijing and been reserve for 2012, Sussex-based Steve Scott is back on the team for Rio with some strong recent results. Commonwealth champion in 2014, he took gold in 2015 at the ISSF World Cup Final in Cyprus, assisted, perhaps, by his coach since early 2013, the “Shotgun Sheikh”, Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Hasher Al Maktoum. The Sheikh caught British attention as the (volunteer) coach for Peter Wilson, the double trap champion in London.
After Wilson retired, Scott approached Al Maktoum – himself the 2004 Olympic gold medallist. “He said he’d love to take me on,” explains Scott, whose regular training takes place at Nuthampstead Shooting Club, Britain’s national centre for the double trap. In the build up to Rio, his training on the range has increased from two or three times a week to four. “I’ve been out to Dubai six or seven times now. I’d love a coach on my doorstep but Ahmed has great ideas and issues can be more or less resolved over the phone until I get out there again.”
Scott’s interest, fostered by his dad, began aged nine with a .410. Both a qualified tree surgeon and loader, he’s often at game-shoots over the winter and coaching is an interest he’d like to develop. His best tip for game-shooters is to “get to a tower or simulated day before the season starts. People don’t move their feet to set themselves up. But it’s just rust.” He enjoys the odd pheasant day – “I’m not too shabby, actually” – but for clays he, too, is a Perazzi man, with a German stock, and his cartridges are Italian. “I use RC4s, red shot, nickel plated. They have a little bit more kinetic energy; a bit more oomph.”
TEAM GB SHOOTING: JEN MCINTOSH
Age 24, Three Position 50m rifle
Edinburgh-based Jen McIntosh was born to the sport; both parents were internationals and she now trains with her father. Rightly proud of having won a place to contest her second Olympics as part of Team GB shooting, she has put aside make-up qualifications to be on the range every day.
“I can get through 10,000 to 15,000 rounds a year,” she explains, visiting sponsor Eley’s range in Birmingham periodically to test its Tenex ammo in her Swiss Grünig & Elmiger rifle; she’s recently reverted to a wooden stock.
McIntosh wears a canvas and synthetic suit to shoot, which helps with stability and supports her back, and includes gym work and sessions with a Sport Scotland Institute of Sport psychologist in her training.
“My sport is about balance and stability and not disrupting through the shot. Then, at a certain level, it becomes about shot execution and who’s got the nerve to do it properly on the day,” she says. “The thing that defines Olympic champions is mental application.”
TEAM GB SHOOTING: OLYMPIC SHOOTING EVENTS EXPLAINED
Said to be one of the hardest shooting events. A trench, 15 metres in front of the shooting line, conceals 15 traps, arranged in five groups of three. These release “going-away birds” at different angles and elevations to a distance of 76 metres. Six guns compete at a time, taking it in turns to shoot the same birds in a randomised order.
An event for men only, this uses the same trench with “birds” released from stands 7, 8 and 9. Two competitors shoot at once; 150 targets are released in three sets of 25 pairs.
Here, the shooter moves not the trap. Clays issue from two fixed towers, high and low, with the shooter tackling them from eight stations in a semicircle. Clays are released randomly and it is forbidden to mount the gun before the target is released.
THREE POSITION 50M RIFLE
Using a .22 weighing no more than 6.5kg, three groups of five shots are taken in each position: kneeling, prone and standing. With the two lowest shots eliminated at this stage, the finals involve two series of five shots taken in the standing position, after which two more are eliminated. The lowest ranked athlete is then eliminated after every shot until two remain in line. The last shot decides it.