13 August 2008

Just when you thought that wonders would never cease, up comes another venue. Trouble is that the medals do not necessarily follow. Richard Faulds, gold medallist in the double trap (clay pigeons to you and me) at Sydney, finished last in the closing 50-clay shoot-out. His baby son Charlie slept through it all. Perhaps we should have too.

That, of course, is a gross slur on the 31-year-old farmer’s son from Longparish in Hampshire, who this year climbed back to the top of the world rankings and who had downed 137 of the 150 clays in the morning to qualify fifth in the six-man final. But his prowess means that once every four years, groups of grubby British hacks mug up on the merits of the double trap. We had made the 45-minute journey to the huge Beijing Shooting Range Hall – built especially for the Olympics – and expected nothing less than gold.

Poor Faulds, seven off the American leader and eventual winner Walton Eller, was never going to get it. But the venue must. You have never seen anything like it. It looked much more like a university campus than a shooting range. On arrival we were ushered into a gleaming new office block without a shotgun in sight. The two huge halls nearby turned out to be for the rifle and pistol shooting competitions and we were led through one of them to be struck by the revelation of the shooting range, complete with 5,000-seater stand and five rows of tiered, TV-packed press desks.

Down in front of us six of the world’s best marksmen were about to try to knock 25 pairs of spinning saucers out of the sky, and in case we had not registered the location, the apron from which they would be firing was flanked by miniature versions of those iconic towers on The Great Wall of China.

The faultering Faulds needed an American to start shooting wide. Straightaway one did. Two discs flew. Both barrels blazed but the clays flew on and an official raised two red flags as a sign of shame. But it was Jeffrey Holguin from California, not the Texan Eller, who missed.

Hopes of a bronze flickered but Faulds missed a clay in each of the last pair and finished sixth, albeit just four shots behind third-placed Binyuan Hu of China, who received frenzied support. Not as frenzied, though, as the reaction of silver medallist Francesco D’Aniello, who rushed up to the press seats to talk live to Italian TV. Faulds said: “Things just didn’t work out.”

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