William Chetcuti had looked on course to gain a place in the final of the double trap shooting competition in Beijing yesterday but his bright chances of a top-six finish suffered a hammer blow with three consecutive misses in the concluding stages of the third and final qualifying round.
The young Maltese hopeful finished a commendable eighth overall after being involved in a four-way shoot-off for the sixth and final berth in the barrage.
Walton Eller, of the United States, won the gold medal with a total of 190 points, a new Olympic record. Italian Francesco D'Aniello claimed silver and China's Hu Binyuan took bronze.
Chetcuti, long regarded as Malta's best hope of a first Olympic medal, had made a most encouraging start to his double trap participation at the Beijing Shooting Centre yesterday with scores of 47/50 and 45/50 in the opening two rounds.
In the third and final qualifying round, Chetcuti continued to shoot well but the pressure got to him in the closing stages as he spurned the last three targets for a score of 44 and a total of 136 points, just one behind fifth-placed Briton Richard Faulds.
Four shooters, Chetcuti, Russell Mark (Australia), Ahmed Almaktoum (UAE) and Roland Gerebics (Hungary) were tied on 136 points, meaning that a shoot-off was needed to decide the last qualifier for the six-man final.
Gerebics was the first to drop out of contention. He was followed by Chetcuti who hit three out of two pairs, leaving Almaktoum, gold medallist in Athens four years ago, and Mark to fight it out for sixth place in qualifying.
Mark eventually made it to the final after smashing six targets in the shoot-off to Almaktoum's five.
Chetcuti's narrow failure to obtain a slot in the barrage and a possible shot at a podium place will have left him and the entire Maltese clan in Beijing dejected but Julian Pace Bonello, Team Malta's chef-de-mission, declared himself satisfied with the shooter's performance.
"We're pleased with the result gained by William Chetcuti in double trap," Pace Bonello told The Times yesterday.
"Eighth overall is the best result ever achieved by a Maltese competitor in the Olympic Games and represents a one-place improvement on Chetcuti's ninth position at the Athens Games.
"Chetcuti was within touching distance of qualification for the final but it was not meant to be. We're disappointed that he just failed to progress to the final after missing his last three targets in the final qualifying round. One more point would have been enough for him to enter the final."
"Nevertheless, we all know that Chetcuti has enormous potential and at 23, he can go and achieve greater things in his career," Pace Bonello added.
In a statement, the Malta Shooting Sport Federation (MSSF) congratulated Chetcuti for his eighth placing yesterday.
"Chetcuti certainly did well to finish ahead of world-famous shooters from Italy, Sweden, China, Great Britain, Russia, India, Puerto Rico, New Zealand and Canada," the MSSF said.
Double trap result (top 10): 1. W. Eller (US) 190 (145+45); 2. F. D'Aniello (Italy) 187 (141+46); 3. H. Binyuan (China) 184 (138+46); 4. J. Holguin (US) 182 (140+42); 5. R. Mark (Australia) 181 (136+45); 6. R. Faulds (Great Britain) 180 (137+43); 7. A. Almaktoum (UAE) 136; 8. W. Chetcuti (Malta) 136; 9. R. Geberics (Hungary) 136; 10. D. Di Spigno (Italy) 135.
Bezzina loses opening bout
Marcon Bezzina's participation in the Olympics lasted less than five minutes, the time it took Algeria's Kahina Saidi to subdue the Maltese judoka in their women's -63kg bout.
Saidi failed to advance further in the competition though after losing to Elisabeth Willeboordse, of the Netherlands, in the next round.
Day five of competition at the Beijing Games sees only one Maltese athlete in action, swimmer Madeleine Scerri.
The Maltese-Australian, who has a qualifying time of 58.47, is scheduled to swim in heat one of the women's 100m freestyle which comprises only two other swimmers, Elena Popovska, of Macedonia, and Olga Hachatryan, of Turkmenistan.
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