Long regarded as Malta's best hope for an Olympic medal, shooter William Chetcuti becomes the first Team Malta member to enter the competitive fray at the Beijing Games early this morning when taking part in the double trap qualifiers.

A total of 19 shooters have entered the competition at the Beijing Shooting Range.

Chetcuti was drawn in the first group along with India's Singh Rajyavardhan Rathore, Hungary's Roland Gerebics, Vitaly Fokeev, of Russia, and Britain's Scott Steven. Both aged 23, Chetcuti and Steven are the youngest competitors in their five-man group.

The 19 participants will shoot 150 targets in the three qualifying rounds with the leading six advancing to the barrage.

Chetcuti is aiming to improve on his ninth-place finish (134 hits) in Athens four years ago.

The Maltese Olympic Committee have set Chetcuti the somewhat mundane target of a top-six finish but were the Bidnija prodigy to progress to the final, then his chances of capturing what would be an historic first medal for Malta would receive a terrific boost.

The Maltese hopeful's form may have dipped over the past two years but his performances are said to have improved in the build-up to the Olympics.

Chetcuti's results in training bode well for his chances in Beijing, Julian Pace Bonello, Team Malta's chef-de-mission, told The Times yesterday.

Chetcuti had three practice shoots at the competition's venue yesterday.

United Arab Emirates' shooter Ahmed Al Maktoum will be looking to defend his Olympic title in double trap. India's Rathore, who won silver four years ago, is also targeting a repeat of his 2004 success but China's Wang Zheng, who took bronze in Athens, is not on the starters' list.

Judoka Marcon Bezzina, Malta's flag-bearer at Friday's opening ceremony, is due to compete in the women's -63kg category at the Beijing Science and Technology University Gymnasium, this morning.

Bezzina, 22, faces an uphill task to progress past the preliminary round as, in her opening bout, she must contend with Algeria's Kahina Saidi, a gold medal winner at last year's African Games.

Japan's Ayumi Tanimoto won the gold medal in the women's -63kg at the 2004 Athens Games.

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