Australia’s skeet and trap shooters were in action at the Commonwealth Championships in Newcastle this week, which doubled as a key selection trial for Tokyo 2020.
The titles are one of four events used as Shooting Australia selection trials - athlete’s scores and bonuses for final placings are combined across the events, with the top-ranked athlete per event gaining automatic nomination for selection to the Australian Olympic Team in line with Shooting Australia’s selection criteria.
2019 World Cup event winner James Willett was forced to dig deep and overcome a slow start to capture the Commonwealth Championship gold medal.
Willett overcame a three-shot deficit to Victorian Vinnie Mollica after the opening 25 targets, finding his rhythm to peel off a perfect last 25 from 25 to clinch a solid victory.
Willett, a finalist at Rio 2016, finished on 46 of 50 targets to win the gold medal ahead of Mollica (43) with Victoria’s Mitch Iles (34) placed third.
In winning the event, Willett earned six bonus points in addition to the 121 points scored in the five qualifying rounds of 25 shots and has opened a healthy seven point lead over Iles in the race to win Shooting Australia’s Olympic team nomination.
“It was a good final and a nice way to start the year. Vinnie kept the pressure on me, and I was forced to claw my way back,” said Willett.
“I was aware of the scores and I knew what I had to do, and I was very pleased to shoot 25 out of 25 at the back end. The winds were tricky and it became darker which made conditions difficult.”
Rio Olympian and mixed team world champion Laetisha Scanlan performed brilliantly to win the Commonwealth Championship women’s trap final.
Scanlan (47) performed outstandingly in blustery conditions, only missing three targets to defeat fellow Victorians Penny Smith (40) and 2016 Rio Olympic Games gold medallist, Catherine Skinner (29).
Scanlan set a commanding standard downing the first 17 targets before recording her first miss with her 18th shot. After two further mid-round misses, Scanlan was then faultless with her final 20 targets.
“The conditions were tough and it’s not an easy range to shoot at. I knew that coming into the competition and I wanted to get out early with a lead and I was very happy to get the win,” she said.
“It’s always great to get a win at the first event of the year. With the Christmas and New Year holiday period, I was strategic with a plan to come and shoot well and I managed to pull it off today.”
Scanlan qualified for the final one point behind Smith and, after gaining final bonus points, they jointly top the women’s trap Olympic selection table each with 121 points with Skinner in third place on 117 points.
Australia has gained two Tokyo Olympic Games quota positions in both the men’s and women’s trap.
Western Australia’s Laura Coles gained revenge to defeat New Zealand’s Chloe Tipple to capture the Women’s Commonwealth Skeet title, after the Kiwi won the Oceania Championship Women’s Skeet gold medal in Sydney last November.
Coles, the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games champion, hit 52 of 60 targets ahead of Tipple (48 targets) with 2016 Olympian Aislin Jones (39 targets) in third place.
Coles said her victory vindicated technical changes she made last year.
“I changed equipment with a new gun and have changed my mount position. I tended to become more upright when under pressure, so it was great to have success today,” she said. “I stuck to my processes and the results followed.”
In the Men’s Skeet, Queensland’s Paul Adams overcame an inconsistent qualifying performance to take the gold medal.
Adams was ranked fourth coming into the final, but took command from the outset hitting 57 of 60 targets to defeat Newcastle’s Frank Morris (52) with Victoria’s James Bolding (42 targets) in third.
The biggest surprise of the final was the elimination of top qualifier Luke Argiro after the first round.
Adams’ performance, which saw him score two perfect rounds of 10, saw him maintain his great form after winning the Oceania Championship last year.
“My qualifying rounds were quite poor, and I needed to pull my finger out in the final,” admitted Adams.
“It’s nice to get back to back victories after winning the Oceania title, but it is still very early days as far as Olympic selection is concerned.”
Australia has earnt one Tokyo 2020 quota for each of women and men in skeet events.
Shooting action continues this week with the National Championships, another selection-relevant event, kicking off today in Newcastle.