Longford’s hopes of securing a medal at this year’s Olympics rests on the shoulders of one man, Kenagh’s sharpshooter, Derek Burnett. Adding to an already impressive CV, the 41-year-old is one of just two Irish athletes competing at their fourth consecutive Olympic games.
London 2012 will follow on from Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008) for Ireland’s leading trap shooter. Burnett, who left for London last Sunday week, is pleased with preparations, having spent the last three weeks training in Italy and Germany.
“I’m happy enough with how things are, but you can never really tell. Training has gone well and I’m happy with how I’m shooting but I’ve been in this position before so you never really know until the day arrives,” he told the Leader this week.
Derek is openly vocal about his disappointment with his performance last time out in Beijing, where he finished 29th. “The funny thing was, I attended a holding camp in Singapore before I went on to China and I was actually shooting very well. Once I got to China, it just didn’t happen. The way I’m shooting now, I would be confident, but there’s no guarantees,” he said.
Now an Olympic veteran, he is hoping the previous experiences will stand to him. “With the first one everything was newfangled, and I didn’t really know what I was at. Since Sydney, I’ve found competing that bit easier in the sense I’m not as star struck by the occasion.”
This year’s games will be the closest to a ‘home’ Olympics any Irish athlete is likely to ever get, something Derek hopes might benefit the Irish team. “There’s bound to be some advantage being so close to home, especially with regards to climate but with shooting if the weather is as bad as it is here at the minute, it makes things impossible to judge.
“If the wind is up, the kite goes everywhere and it makes things very difficult. How much a benefit being in London is, we will have to wait and see.”
One of the definite advantages of being so close to home is that friends and family will be able to travel to cheer on the modest star, including Derek’s father, Sammy. “It’s without doubt down to him that I took up shooting. It will be nice for him to get over and take in the atmosphere, and to finally see what the Olympics are like after all these years.”
The sharpshooter’s participation continues a strong tradition of Irish clay pigeon shooters at the Olympics, with the country being represented at every event since Mexico City in 1968.
Athens has been his most successful outing, when he was one of six athletes that finished on 119 points and ended the event tied 7th. Burnett was also part of the Irish team that won bronze at the World Championship in 2009, with Philip Murphy and David Malone.
Burnett has been full time at the sport since after the Sydney games with his skills making him one of the few athletes eligible for the Irish Sports Council’s €40,000 Podium grant, which enables him to travel to events all across the globe.
“When I first started competing, I didn’t think I would be at the Olympics, and I suppose it is nice to think that this is the fourth Olympics, but I’d be of the mind of looking back on those things afterwards, now I just want to concentrate on the games in hand.”
The Men’s Trap will take place at Royal Artillery Barracks in south-east London on August 5th, with the final the following day.
Given his bronze medal win at the European Championships in Kazan in Russia just two years ago, as well as a string of strong performances this year, there’s no doubt Longford’s Olympian is within a decent shout of hitting the mark at the games.