The Maltese shooting community had good reason to celebrate over the past few weeks after double trap shooters William Chetcuti and Nathan Lee Xuereb struck gold in high-level competitions.

Chetcuti gave his Olympic Games preparations a massive boost when producing a flawless performance to win the gold medal at the World Cup shoot in Baku, Azerbaijan. He defeated three-times winner Marco Innocenti, of Italy, in the final.

Nathan Lee Xuereb... European junior title.Nathan Lee Xuereb... European junior title.

Xuereb further cemented his reputation as one of the rising stars of the sport when he won the European Junior Championship in Lonato, Italy.

For the 18-year-old, this was his third continental title after triumphing in 2013 and 2014.

Xuereb also claimed the gold medal at the World Junior Championship, in Suhl, Germany last May.

“The results achieved by William and Nathan didn’t happen overnight,” Saviour Portelli, president of the Malta Shooting Sport Federation, told The Sunday Times of Malta.

“Our federation, with the assistance of the Maltese Olympic Committee and SportMalta, has been investing heavily in both shooters for several years and we are now reaping the fruit of our work.

“Surely, these results will further increase our determination to try and raise the level of the sport on our islands.”

Portelli said that, while Chetcuti and Xuereb deservedly stole the limelight for their fine performances , there were a lot of other positives to take from the results obtained by our shooters.

“The European Championship gave us good cause to be positive about the future as there were several shooters who proved that they are slowly upping their performances on the international scene,” Portelli said.

The MOC, in collaboration with our federation, applied for a number of invitations but there is no guarantee that all the proposed athletes will be approved

“In the skeet competition, Clive Farrugia amassed 119 points from 125 and was just three short of a place in the semi-finals.

“In the trap event, our representatives were superior to our counterparts from other European small nations and that surely bodes well for next year’s GSSE in San Marino.”

With the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro just under three weeks away, focus will inevitably turn to Malta’s participation in the quadrennial event.

Chetcuti and target shooter Eleonor Bezzina are set to represent the Malta Shooting Sport Federation after receiving an invitation from the International Olympic Committee.

Olympic spots

The MOC and the shooting federation have come under fire in recent weeks amid claims that they had made a joint-request for an Olympic invitation for Chetcuti and Bezzina while other shooters, like Xuereb, were allegedly overlooked.

Portelli made it clear that the MOC and the shooting federation have submitted a number of applications for Olympic invitations but, in the end, the final say lies with the members of the IOC Tripartite Commission.

“The procedure to obtain invitations for the Olympic Games is quite long and the Tripartite Commission takes into consideration many factors,” Portelli explained.

“A national federation is allocated a quota for the Olympics when an athlete wins a World Championship or a World Cup shoot in the two years before the Games or the athlete is awarded an invitation from the IOC Tripartite Commission.

“The MOC, in collaboration with our federation, applied for a number of invitations in October last year but there is no guarantee that all the proposed athletes will be approved.

“The invitations are issued in name of the athlete, meaning that they cannot be transferred to anyone else.

“Nathan Lee Xuereb, William Chetcuti and Eleonor Bezzina all received Olympic Solidarity funds to compete in a number of international events in a bid to qualify for the Rio Games.

“There has been a lot of talk in the media about the selection of William and Eleonor in particular.

“When the applications closed in October, William was ranked ninth in the ISSF rankings and that played a big part in helping him secure an invitation to compete in Rio.

“Eleonor, on her part, had just missed out on achieving the quota at the European Championships by a mere point last November. But she remained consistent in her performances, recording an MQS score in both the 10-metre air rifle and 25-metre pistol events and was rewarded with a slot in both events at the Rio Games.

“I’m confident that both William and Eleonor will achieve good results at the Olympics.”

Beyond next month’s Olympics, Portelli is hoping that his federation will finally fulfil its ambition of having its own shooting ranges in the near future as Malta has an agreement with the world governing body, the ISSF, to host a World Cup between June 5 and 15, 2018.

“The new ranges project is currently held up by the Planning Authority,” Portelli revealed.

“We hope that there will be a breakthrough soon because we have a contract with the ISSF to organise a World Cup in 2018.

“In 2008 and 2010, we had also applied to host such an event but on both occasions, everything fell through as the authorities didn’t give us a site to construct new ranges.

“We badly need these ranges as, apart from hosting the 2018 World Cup, it would also provide our federation with opportunities to attract foreign teams for training camps as well as to organise high-level competitions for the benefit of Maltese shooters.”