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Graham Downing reflects on the nation's Olympic and Paralympic marksmen and women after a glorious summer of shooting sport
What a summer it has been. Hot on the heels of those glorious celebrations to mark the Queens Diamond Jubilee came the most incredible Olympic fortnight followed by what, by common consent, was the best Paralympic Games ever.
Country sports do not feature in the Olympic repertoire of course, but my interest was grabbed by the shooting events. Peter Wilsons gold medal in the mens double trap was of course a glittering achievement for British clay pigeon shooting, but arguably the most humbling sight was watching the worlds top disabled shooters in competition at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich.
Firing points packed with athletes who, despite missing limbs or lack of lower body function, could nevertheless at 50 metres perforate targets the size of my little fingernail.
With supreme eloquence they demonstrated with their rifles and pistols that here was a sport in which all can participate on equal terms men, women, young, old, disabled and able bodied, all shooting together in competition.
The day after the Paralympic shooting events closed I received an emailed questionnaire from the organisers the same, no doubt, as did every other ticket holder in which I was asked my views on the venue, the organisation, the travel arrangements and competitions. I found it difficult to give anything but full marks to each. The hardest question, though, was the one which asked me for the element which I thought worst about the shooting competitions I had watched, the one which disappointed me most.
My answer? That in a line of 50 Paralympic pistol shooters from all over the world, there was not a single British competitor. The reason is simple: the sport is banned in Britain, and has been since 1997. What remains of the British national pistol squad has to train in Switzerland, which is not much use if you are a disabled athlete.
At best, overseas training cannot hope to provide British shooters with the hours of constant practice required to excel at international level.
If the Government wants real sporting legacy from Britains Olympic summer, then I suggest they re-examine the pistol ban, which has signally failed to stop thugs and gangsters from getting their hands on illegal guns. In fact just about all it has done is to exclude our shooters from competing on equal terms with those from every other country across the world.