Nathan Lee Xuereb, still only 15, stole the headlines yesterday after upstaging some top-class shooters, including William Chetcuti, to claim the Malta International Double Trap Grand Prix in convincing fashion, hitting an incredible 50-clay straight in the final.
It was indeed an extraordinary performance from the up-and-coming Xuereb who kept control of his nerves in an exciting barrage as his illustrious team-mate Chetcuti, the 2011 Grand Prix winner, and the rest of the field succumbed to the pressure at the Bidnija ranges.
Chetcuti had to settle for fourth after a below-par shoot in the final where he missed five clays. Italy’s Daniele Di Spigno was second with 193 points, three ahead of the third-placed Swede Hakan Dahlby
Sharing fourth place with Chetcuti was another top Italian shooter Antonio Barilla while Marco Innocenti was sixth on 183.
The battle for honours was a thrilling affair from start to finish, enhancing the growing profile of this competition which this year attracted 20 shooters.
Xuereb, Di Spigno and Chetcuti shared top spot after the opening three rounds, totalling 144 from 150, just one ahead of Dahlby.
Two successive misses saw Chetcuti fall behind as Xuereb and Di Spigno clicked into gear to surge ahead in the barrage.
Di Spigno, who won bronze in a pre-Olympic shoot in London last week, was showing great mental strength.
However, the wily Italian surely never expected that his main challenge in the final would come from Xuereb.
A rare error by Di Spigno with only eight clays to go handed the initiative to Xuereb who was smashing clays with relative ease as he went on to complete a faultless straight to seal an incredible victory with an overall score of 194.
Di Spigno was second on 193 as Dahlby beat Chetcuti by one point to clinch bronze on 190 points.
“It’s very difficult to find words to explain my emotions,” an elated Xuereb said as his relatives and friends lifted him shoulder-high across the lush turf carpet at Bidnija.
“I was up against some of the best shooters around in double trap and to beat them all here is something extraordinary.
“I looked relaxed in the final but inside I was very tense... luckily I managed to keep calm to finish the job.”
Coach Jimmy Bugeja, always there to support his shooters, hailed Xuereb as the next shooting prodigy.
“Today, Nathan Lee has shown that he is on his way to becoming a world-class shooter,” he said.
“He’s still a young lad but showed great maturity in key moments to beat some of the best shooters in this category.
“Like William, he is a great talent and if he continues to show dedication and enthusiasm he can go a long way and earn a lot of satisfaction for himself and his country.”
Bugeja also had words of comfort for Chetcuti, saying the shoot at Bidnija yesterday was another stage of his build-up to the London Olympics.
“William will surely feel disappointed he did not make the podium but it’s not the end of the world for him,” Bugeja said.
“In the first three rounds he was excellent but something must have gone wrong in the final.
“In the coming weeks we will try to correct a few things in his technique but at the Olympics he should reach his peak, no doubt.”
Meanwhile, Chetcuti’s preparations for London 2012 will continue this week when he heads to Italy along with Xuereb for a World Cup shoot in Lonato on Sunday.
1. N.L. Xuereb (144+50) 194; 2. D. Di Spigno (144+49) 193; 3. H. Dahlby (143+47) 190; 4. W. Chetcuti (144+45) 189; 5. A. Barilla (140+49) 189; 6. M. Innocenti (139+44) 183.
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