LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) - At the fifth attempt and with only 10 days practice, Qatari shooter and rally driver Nasser Al Attiyah overturned the odds to claim a coveted Olympic bronze medal in the men’s skeet at the London Olympics on Tuesday.
The prized Olympic medal was only the third for Qatar, all bronzes, and their first for 12 years, bringing huge cheers from a big delegation from the tiny Gulf nation who swarmed to Al Attiyah to celebrate afterwards.
The delight was etched all over the 41-year-old’s face after mastering the tricky overcast and cool conditions at the Royal Artillery Barracks in south east London to achieve a dream.
“Shooting I cannot practice because I am always travelling, around 270 days,” the Qatari told reporters after finishing behind winner Vincent Hancock of America.
“I came here and shot maybe one week or 10 days before.”
Al Attiyah’s late crammed session is because he chooses to pursue his other love - rallying.
While Chinese Yi Siling spent two years in a training camp prior to winning the women’s 10 metre air rifle, the first gold at the London Games, Al Attiyah travelled the world competing in rally car events with great success.
He won the 2011 Dakar Rally, a gruelling annual event that started out as a race from Paris across the Sahara desert to the Senegalese capital Dakar and claimed many lives, but has been moved to South America.
”It is completely different feeling because Olympics is every four years and Dakar rally you can do every year.
“I learn and I take a lot from rally about how I can fight and this is what I did here because really I don’t have a lot of training because I am busy with motor sport.”
And Al Attiyah knows which one is easier.
“To be honest, here my heart is working a lot,” the Qatari said before laughing that the clay targets he shot could be compared to his rally co-driver as an equal participant in the sport.
“It is a few seconds, you must hit the target and from a few seconds you must move the gun from your middle to your face it is not easy but I‘m happy to have this very high level from shooting.”
That high level was required after a nervy six-man final which he began in joint third place.
He started well and took sole possession of third before two missed targets allowed Russia’s Valeriy Shomin to tie and force a shootoff.
“In Athens I had a shootoff for a bronze medal and I lost but immediately when I was in a shootoff here I remembered this day and I said I would do my best to finish third,” he said.
“I was really believing in myself inside because the last 10 days here I worked very, very hard and I feel myself very good on this range.”
The belief was not misplaced and bronze was confirmed after Shomin missed with his sixth shot.
That added to a memorable start to the London Games for Qatar, who fielded their first female Olympian, Bahia Al Hamad, at the shooting range on Saturday and have bold ambitions to host sport’s biggest event in 2024.
“Qatar, she gave me everything that I need from motor sport to shooting you know I am so happy,” Al Attiyah said before praising the inclusion of his female compatriots as Al Hamad watched on taking photographs.
“It is first time, it is a good message for Arab females and I think now all of the Middle East is open for ladies to compete this I think is a good thing.”
Next stop for Al Attiyah - the Rally of Germany on Aug. 24. (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)