Shooting: ISSF hail best Games but stigmas stick
LONDON (Reuters) - Shooting attracted record numbers of spectators at the London Olympics but the sport's desire to ditch the stigma of violence was blighted by gun killings in the United States that book-ended the event.
When the American team touched down in London and spoke to the media before the Games, they faced numerous questions about the deaths of 12 people killed by a gunman in Denver the previous week as they watched the new Batman film.
After offering their condolences to the mourning families, the Americans accused people of making sweeping generalizations and tried to distance their skilful sport from the killings back home.
"The sport actually teaches responsibility, discipline, focus, respect, things about the outdoors, and that is obviously what our job is here at the Olympics," said Kim Rhode, who went on to get a gold in the skeet that made her the first American to win a medal at five consecutive Olympics.
All the competitors used every opportunity to promote their sport and the Americans, who finished with three golds, were the loudest in discussing the need to educate people in the huge advertising space that the Olympics provide.
They had a big audience at the Royal Artillery Barracks in south-east London: almost every day the stands were full and shooting was the only Olympic sport to suffer from overcrowding.
Whether those people are inspired to go to gun clubs or shooting events in the future is another matter.
South Korea took three golds and two silvers in London to finish top of the shooting standings after the 15 events involving 390 athletes from a record 108 countries.
"The best Games ever," International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) President Olegario Vazquez Rana said in a statement.
"Great facilities, great results, and an exceptional response of the public. I have received positive feedback from shooters, coaches and IOC (International Olympic Committee) authorities. This is the story of a success."
IOC President Jacques Rogge was on hand to present the first medal of the Games on July 28 to China's Yi Siling after she won the women's 10 meter air rifle, a competition that featured the first Qatari female Olympian, Bahia Al Hamad, and an eight-month pregnant Malaysian, Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi.
The human interest stories continued to capture the imagination as a policewoman, a waiter, army personnel and an international rally driver all picked up medals.
"The 2012 Olympic Games has been a real highlight for the ISSF. The sport results have been really high, as 29 records can prove. And the turnout of the public has been overwhelming. These have truly been one of the best Olympic editions ever," ISSF Secretary General Franz Schreiber said in a statement.
Then, on the penultimate day of the event, a gunman killed six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, and discussion about the dangers of guns in the wrong hands returned.
"It is not the gun that kills, it is the person that kills," Emil Milev, a Bulgarian-born member of the U.S. team said at the Games.
"Firearms used in general to do sports should not be connected to a person like that."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)
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