Norfolk marksman Mick Gault’s Olympic dream

Having been practised competitively for centuries, the tense and demanding sport of shooting is now popular all over the world.

At Beijing, marksmen and women from more than 100 countries took part in the competition and in London next year there will be 45 medals up for grabs.

It is one of the sports where in the UK there are equal numbers of boys and girls entering competitions with more than 350,000 people in the country currently taking part in the sport.

Olympic shooting events fall broadly into three types: pistol, rifle and shotgun events.

With the exceptions of the 1904 and 1928 Games, shooting has featured on every Olympic programme since the first modern Games in 1896. Women's events were added to the schedule in 1984.

And in total, shooting, in all its forms, has yielded a massive 106 medals for Great Britain including 32 golds.

Norfolk's top marksman Mick Gault is hoping to be given his chance to add that tally next year.

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The 57-year-old pistol shooter, who lives in Dereham, is England's most successful Commonwealth Games competitor with 17 medals, including nine golds.

But he has never qualified for the Olympics due to the 'quota' system which allocates limited places to national shooting federations based on performances at selected championships – meaning the best shooters from any specific country are never guaranteed a place.

Last month, he was tempted out of retirement by the prospect of securing one of three guaranteed quota places for Team GB, offered to the 2012 host nation.

To achieve that ambition, he has stepped up his training regime and signed up a sports psychologist and a personal trainer.

Mick, who trains for up to 20 hours a week as well as working full time as a civil servant at RAF Marham, said: 'I'm doing shooting practice one day, fitness exercises another and mental training work. The fitness exercises are a mixture of Tai Chi, Pilates and aerobic.

'It's important to get the heart strong. You might think it's just shooting but when you are under a lot of pressure and stress, you have to keep your heart rate under control.

'My sport is quite sedentary but I've got to be fit for purpose.'

At London 2012, the shooting competition will be held at the historic Royal Artillery Barracks.

In pistol and rifle events, competitors aim at a 10-ringed target from a set distance, 10 metres, 25 or 50. Depending on the event, athletes are required to shoot from standing, kneeling or prone positions.

In shotgun events, meanwhile, competitors shoot at moving clay targets launched above and in front of them.

During the five pistol events and the five rifle events, shooters take part in two rounds, the qualification and the final. The scores in each round are added together to give a total score, which determines the winners of the medals. There are also two stages in the five shotgun events, with the scores from the qualification and final stages added together to determine the rankings.

Mick, who has three children and two grandchildren with a third on the way, first took up shooting in the late Seventies when he was in the RAF.

It was during the late Eighties he was talent spotted and quickly moved up the ranks, competing in the European Championships for Britain in 1990. He has since competed at five Commonwealth Games.

His final chance of achieving the qualifying score for next year's Olympics will come in Finland in February after he narrowly missed out in the European Cartridge Championship in Belgrade earlier this month.

'The big thing is to get the ticket to go to the Olympic Games, just trying to get the magic scores,' said Mick, who also coaches the Scotland pistol shooting team.

'If I get the magic scores then the ticket will happen and then I will start to think about the Olympics Games.'

If successful, Mick estimates he will need to raise �10,000 in sponsorship to cover his training and competitions in the lead-up to the London Games.

Pistol shooting receives very little funding from the government and nearly all the British team members are part-time.

'Competing in the Olympic Games will be special,' said Mick. 'The pressures of being at home are tremendous.

'In most sports, the adrenaline generated by playing in front of home crowds can help but in target-orientated sports, adrenaline is the enemy. But I coped well at the Manchester Commonwealth Games. One of my greatest sporting achievements was in Manchester, when I went from fourth to first, which was in front of a home crowd and my family. I know I can do it.'

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