Kenagh shooter Derek Burnett who will be contesting his fifth Olympic Games in the Men's Trap in Tokyo Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Derek Burnett is arguably one of the most experienced competitors to step foot on an Irish Olympic plane as the long awaited Tokyo Games gets underway this Friday.
The 50-year-old Kenagh marksman will be taking part in his fifth Olympics when action in the Men’s Trap kicks-off at 1.50am next Wednesday morning (July 28) due to the eight hours time difference in Tokyo.
It’s a remarkable feat for a man who, but for narrowly missing out in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro equivalent, would be competing in his sixth successive Olympic finals.
“It’s great to be going and I’m looking forward to it,” said Derek, less than 24 hours before his flight was set to depart Dublin for the Japanese capital last Friday.
The past two weeks have been somewhat of a blur for the former Mercy Ballymahon Secondary School student following his qualification in a dramatic shootout in Dungannon, Co Tyrone.
Now, with flights booked, bags packed and after successfully coming through two Covid-19 PCR tests at the Irish Institute of Sports headquarters in Abbotstown under his belt, Derek Burnett is setting his sights on securing a place in the Men’s Trap final next week.
Should he do so, it will be a personal Olympic best for the south Longford native and emulate a career best achieved at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
“Officially on the scorecards, I finished ninth but it was really equal seventh as the two guys above me had the same score and the judges went with what you got on your last round,” he explained.
That culminated in Derek hitting 119 of a designated 125 targets, a result the proud son of Sammy and Mildred Burnett knows he has to better in around a week’s time.
It’s a task Derek knows won’t be entirely straightforward given how the continued challenge posed by Covid-19 has hindered his own preparations in taking on the world’s elite marksmen.
“It’s difficult to say,” he responded when asked about his own chances in Tokyo.
“I have been in quite good form here but with the whole pandemic, I haven’t been able to travel and compete against some of these guys.
“But if I can carry my domestic form across, like when I shot 98/100 in Dungannon recently then I will definitely be in the mix.
“I know I will have to get a score of 120 or above.”
Derek’s path to Tokyo may have been a convoluted one in the aftermath of a nerve-wracking deciding shootout with Rathkeale’s Ian O'Sullivan, it was one which the former Athlone IT student attributes to his beloved father, Sammy.
“I suppose my first taste of it (shooting) came in the early 80s when I was 11 or 12,” he said, while revealing how his initial involvement with the sport came in ‘Down the Line’, a popular clay pigeon version of shooting
“My dad had a good shot and he would have represented Ireland in the Home Internationals against England, Scotland and Wales.”
Having been effectively born and reared into a clay pigeon shooting background, Derek’s talent quickly emerged.
The sight of Northern Ireland’s Tommy Allen competing in the 1996 Atlanta Games whetted an Olympic appetite which, by the time he lines out gun in hand next week, will have served him more than two decades.
It was a calling which has brought with it plenty of personal sacrifices, particularly of the heart, along the way.
“Sure, it’s very hard to get anybody who will put up with you doing what I do,” he chuckled, when pressed about why he never opted to settle down.
“And if you had a small chap running around the place, you surely wouldn’t be shooting.”
That said, you get the impression Derek is more than content with his lot.
Part of that contentment is steeped in the knowledge of how, despite his age, Derek’s best years could still be ahead of him.
“A lot of it is about hand eye coordination,” he explained.
“A lot of the top end athletes play table tennis, to what end I don’t really know but with this (shooting) age can be irrelevant enough so long as your reflexes and eyesight is good.
“It certainly would have a far greater level of longevity than other sports.”
And it’s those capacities which has left Derek more than open to the idea of contemplating an incredible sixth Olympics finals appearance in Paris in three years time. “Could you say this will be my last (Olympics)?” Derek asked, somewhat philosophically.
“I couldn’t have said that after the first one in Sydney (2000). “It’s just something that’s really enjoyable to be part of and what I can say is I won’t be hanging it up just yet.”
Whatever about Tokyo 2020, it seems the name Derek Burnett will be around for quite some time to come.
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