Among the thousands of athletes from 205 countries taking part in the London Olympics opening ceremony today, five of our top athletes will be walking behind the Maltese flag. Kristina Chetcuti catches up with them.

Shooting

William Chetcuti, 27, of Manikata

He is the first Maltese Olympian to qualify for the Games on his own merit and is the island’s biggest hope for an Olympic medal.

Clay pigeon shooting is a family hobby and he was always exposed to it from a young age. His career shot off when, aged 16, he represented Malta in the Small Nations Games, winning a silver medal.

He trains for about four hours usually five times a week at the shooting range. He also has a regime of physical training five times a week.

“It is important to keep fit. If you tire physically then you tire mentally and can’t keep your focus.”

In London, he will be competing for medals with about 20 other shooters. “If on the day I’m in form, I hope I will be in with the top six.”

For good luck, he will carry a medal in his pocket given to him by members of disability NGO Inspire.

Athletics

Diane Borg, 21, of Paola

She is the leading Maltese female sprinter and was 12 when she got roped into athletics. “I always love running around and racing against my friends... I really enjoy the feeling and rush you get when you run.”

She trains for three hours, six days a week and says her selection on Team Malta was a big surprise.

“I knew I had a good chance to be selected but I also had tough competition.”

Her goal in London is to break her own 100m national record. “As Maltese, our biggest disadvantage is that we are not professional athletes.

“We still need to work and earn a living, so we’re not 100 per cent focused like other foreign athletes.”

Just before she gets on her mark she will make the sign of the cross. “And I’ll pray to God and to my grandparents to give me a good race.”

Swimming

Andrew Chetcuti, 19, of Marsascala

He is currently on a swimming scholarship at the University of Georgia in Atlanta, US, and trains for more than 20 hours a week.

He started swimming when he was four.

“I actually got into swimming because I was afraid of the water, so my parents forced me into it and, ever since, I’ve absolutely loved it and can’t picture myself doing anything else.”

He holds national long-course records for the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle and, yet, his selection was “a complete shock”. Now he “can’t wait for the games to get under way”.

His aim is to get a national record and to achieve a qualifying time for the world championships in Barcelona next year. “But I just want to race my best, have fun and enjoy every moment of the experience.”

Swimming

Nikki Muscat, 18, of Attard

She was initially encouraged to swim to fight off a family tendency to develop scoliosis before it became an issue and started with the Swimming Promotion Unit when she was still five years old.

“Since then, I have been at the national pool every single day.” She trains for about five hours every day and learned about her selection from the 8 o’clock news on TV. “I was just ecstatic and very excited.”

In the run-up to the Games, she has upped her land work and reduced her water work. “I’m doing the 50m freestyle and, so, I’ll be needing much more speed and power.”

She says in Malta it is very hard to manage academic achievement and sport because the education system does not really allow for high level sport. “This is one of the biggest reasons for many top athletes quitting their sport. It is just way too hard, especially in swimming because we train so much.”

She won’t be carrying any lucky charms. “Just constant music in my ears from the moment I get out of warm-up until the moment of my race.”

Athletics

Rachid Chouhal, 37, of Qormi

He started practising athletics when just 13 years old and has since held several national records. Thanks to a scheme by the Malta Sports Council, he can train as a professional athlete and spends between 26 and 36 hours training every week.

He admits he was not surprised by the selection on the team: “I trained really hard this season, which helped me win all the races and my training plan started from last year and was designed especially to qualify for the London Olympic Games.”

In London, he hopes to achieve a positive result whether that be a personal best or a season best. Just before his race, he plans to phone his family for good luck.

When is Team Malta on?

July 31:Andrew Chetcuti, 100m freestyle

August 2:William Chetcuti, double trap

August 3:Diane Borg, 100m, athletics

August 3:Nikki Muscat, 50m freestyle

August 4:Rachid Chouhal, 100m athletics

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