Blog - Starting things off with a bang
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GUEST BLOG: Starting things off with a bang

12th July 2012 - David Goldblatt & Johnny Acton


How to Watch the Olympics by David Goldblatt and Johnny ActonLeading up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton, authors of the indespensible spectators' guide How to Watch the Olympics, have been looking at some of the odder aspects of Olympic history.


In the fourth of this weekly series of blogs, they look at how shooting has changed radically to keep spectators interested, even if duelling hasn't made an appearance since 1912.



The Olympics is meant to be a celebration of international harmony and a contributor to world peace. It is, therefore, rather disappointing that the last week or so has been dominated by headlines about the paranoid securitization of the Games, the mass mobilization of the army and the location of surface-to-air missiles on residential properties around the Olympic Park.

The BBC's brilliant comedy Twenty Twelve was right up to date, featuring a hysterical story line in which the starting guns for the athletic events could be converted to fire real ammunition. This resulted in the boss of the Olympic Deliverance Authority getting shot in the leg by the senior police officer in charge of security for the Games.

Given all the fuss, it's slightly incongruous that for the first week of the Games there will be so many guns around - rifles, air pistols and shotguns, all of them firing live rounds at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, the venue for the Olympic shooting competition. Will anyone notice? How could a sport that is all about intense self-absorption, static posture and the micro-movements of the trigger finger attract interest and attention beyond a tiny circle of devotees? Yet in the opening days of the Beijing games the Chinese public was captivated by the sport, above all the nation's shooting star Du Li. She wilted in the 10m air rifle, losing out to the Czech shooter Katerina Emmons, But a few days later, to the roars of a hugely partisan crowd, she recovered from a poor start to pip Emmons for the gold in the 50m rifle contest.

Olympic shooting in 1908As with many minor Olympic sports, huge efforts have been made to make shooting more TV and spectator friendly. Crowds are no longer expected to maintain rigid silence; clay pigeons now explode in purple puffs of smoke when they are hit. Big screens and one-to-one shoot offs have been introduced and tiny cameras placed on competitors' guns.

Be patient. Imagine what is going on behind the shooters' shades and blinkers. Let the competition unfold and the margins of error diminish. Enjoy the tension, for the pressure on spectators and competitors alike can be deliciously unbearable. Exciting as the modern sport can be, there will be nothing to quite match the live pigeon shooting at the 1900 Paris Games. Nearly three hundred pigeons were killed in the course of the event, leaving blood and feathers all over the participants, officials and spectators. Lament too the passing of the duelling pistol competition, in which the targets were mannequins dressed in frock coats with bullseyes on their throats. It made its last appearance in 1912.


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