SSAA’s super six named in Olympic line-up

Russell Mark

No fewer than six SSAA members will represent Australia next year at the rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo, after Shooting Australia announced the final team selection. World Cup champions and SSAA members Laetisha Scanlan and James Willett were selected for the national Olympic team along with fellow Association members Laura Coles, Tom Grice, Katarina Kowplos and Elise Collier. Willet said he’s absolutely “stoked” after making his second Olympics: “I’ve been working very hard as I transitioned from Double Trap when that discipline was removed from the Olympic program after Rio (2016) and to have made the team for Tokyo is a huge personal achievement.

“I’m really looking forward to working hard in the lead up now to the 2021 games and performing at my best and am truly grateful for the support I’ve had on my journey to making this team.”

World Cup gold medalist and reigning World Pairs champion Scanlan was picked ahead of reigning Olympic champion Catherine Skinner, such is the strength in depth of our women’s Trap squad. Said Scanlan: “I’m humbled and beyond happy to reach my second Olympic Games. With the uncertainty and unique times due to the COVID-19 virus, I feel like Tokyo is a light at the end of the tunnel. Postponing it for 12 months was the only logical option and I believe the Games will be the ultimate celebration of the world coming together again through sport after these incredibly difficult times for everyone.”

Originally scheduled for July this year, the summer games will now take place from July 23 next year and still be known as Tokyo 2020. The announcement to reschedule the Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic was made only a few hours after Shooting Australia’s final Olympic selection event had ended at the Sydney International Shooting Complex in Cecil Park. There was serious doubt as to whether the final trial would go ahead as government restrictions around the virus tightened daily, but the decision was made to hold the last selection event with only the Minimum Olympic Qualified athletes.

The selection process for the designated 12 events (four categories each for pistol, rifle and shotgun) started in January and included four competitions. Each athlete’s Olympic nomination score comprised points from their best three events, their qualification score and bonus points for finals placing. For example, if an athlete shot 121/125 in the qualification rounds then won the six-person final, they’d collect six bonus points for first place for a total of 127 nomination points.

Team selection

The Sydney Oceania Games last November provided Australia with the majority of its Olympic quota places. The host nation dominated the Championships, winning a total of 11 quotas. During the previous two years on the international circuit Australia also won four additional quota places in Men’s Trap (Willett), Women’s Trap (Scanlan and Penny Smith) and Men’s 3P Rifle (Dane Sampson), giving Australia dual quota places in these events.

It’s important to note these quota places are awarded to the country, not the individual who won them, so in total Australia won the right to have 15 shooters compete in Tokyo. At the Olympics a maximum of two competitors is allowable for each event, but if a competitor has shot the minimum qualifying score in an event which does not have two competitors from their country, they can cross over and fill the second spot, something commonplace in pistol and rifle but rare in shotgun.

The Shooting Australia selection policy stipulates the competitor with most nomination points is automatically selected and in events where there are two positions available the governing body reserves the right to subjectively select the second athlete.

At the end of the qualifying events, 11 athletes were automatically selected for the team as follows: Dina Aspandiyarova (Air Pistol Women), Daniel Repacholi (Air Pistol Men), Elena Galiabovitch (Sport Pistol Women), Sergei Evgleski (Rapid Fire Men), Dane Sampson (3-Position and Air Rifle Men), Katarina Kowplos (3-Position Women), Elise Collier (Air Rifle Women), James Willett (Trap Men), Paul Adams (Skeet Men), Penny Smith (Trap Women) and Laura Coles (Skeet Women). The High-Performance Committee then selected a further four athletes in Tom Grice (Trap Men), Laetisha Scanlan (Trap Women) and Alex Hoberg (3-Position Rifle Men) and Jack Rossiter (3-Position Men).

Ones to watch

Tokyo will be Dane Sampson’s third Olympic Games and hopefully he can keep the momentum going from his Gold Coast Commonwealth Games success, Sampson one of our best hopes of a medal. Rossiter makes his second Olympic appearance whereas Hoberg (18), Kowplos (18) and Collier will all make their Olympic debut which will hopefully launch a long international career for the trio.

Pistol has a wealth of experience in its team. Daniel Repacholi, like Sampson, is coming off a gold medal at the Gold Coast and will make an impressive fifth Olympic appearance in Tokyo. Elena Galiabovitch was a Sport Pistol World Cup gold medalist in 2019 in South Korea so could well provide Australia’s first pistol medal in two decades. Tokyo will be Dina Aspandiyarova’s fourth Olympic Games - she was a finalist back in 2000 and at 43 is the veteran of the team. At the other end of the scale is debutant Sergei Evgleski whose mother Lalita was an Olympic medalist for Belarus at Sydney 2000 in Sport Pistol.

Shotgun looks like being our best chance of multiple podium places next year. Scanlan had an extraordinary international season in 2018 and 2019 reaching world No.2, while Men’s Trap world record holder and former world No.1 Willett will make his second Olympic appearance after making the final at the 2016 Rio Games. His teammate will be Tom Grice who competed at the Gold Coast and has a World Championship Pairs gold medal to his name. Impressively, he also beat more than 500 competitors to win last year’s prestigious Beretta Gold Cup in Italy.

Dual women’s World Cup Trap gold medalist Penny Smith makes her Olympic debut but the pressure of the occasion won’t affect the young Victorian whose scores in Olympic trials would have pushed for a place in the men’s team. The Trap Mixed Pairs should prove one of our best medal hopes with Willett, Smith and Grice all being World Champions in the discipline. Grice and Smith will pair up again in Tokyo with Willett and Scanlan forming the other partnership and both combinations are excellent medal prospects.

Skeet shooter Paul Adams will make his second Olympic appearance and has finished on the podium on three occasions since Rio. In Women’s Skeet, 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games gold medalist Laura Coles makes her long-awaited Olympic debut and carries the hopes of Western Australia.

With the 2020 international season so badly disrupted, the 2021 World Cup early next year should be the next big competition. There should also be a test event on the Tokyo range prior to the Olympics as well three World Cup outings for competitors to hone their marksmanship skills. There will be much debate over a team being selected so far out from a competition - 16 months in fact - but there really was no other way as to reselect the team would have opened a minefield of moral and ethical issues as well as legal appeals.

- with Nadia Isa

Australian Olympic squad for Tokyo 2020

Pistol

Sergei Evgleski: Rapid Fire Men; Daniel Repacholi: Air Pistol Men, Air Pistol Mixed Teams; Elena Galibovitch: Sport Pistol Women; Dina Aspandiyarova: Air Pistol Women, Air Pistol Mixed Teams.

Rifle

Dane Sampson: 3-Position Men, Air Rifle Men, Air Rifle Mixed Pairs; Alex Hoberg: 3-Position Men, Air Rifle Men; Jack Rossiter: 3-Position Men; Katarina Kowplos: 3-Position Women; Elise Collier: Air Rifle Women, Air Rifle Mixed Pairs.

Shotgun

James Willett: Trap Men, Mixed Pairs; Tom Grice: Trap Men, Mixed Pairs; Penny Smith: Trap Women, Mixed Pairs; Laeteshia Scanlan: Trap Women, Mixed Pairs; Paul Adams: Skeet Men; Laura Coles: Skeet Women.

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