The whole planet seemed to be watching as Australia’s three teams put in impressive performances at the 2016 World Rimfire Championships for Benchrest rifle shooting in Portugal. Australia’s A team won the title while the C team threesome landed fifth spot and the B team trio finished ninth in the tournament, which ran from July 18 to 23 at the Jamor Sporting Range in Lisbon. And while events were unfolding the Aussies were the centre of global attention thanks to Facebook accounts set up by Norm Bardell and hardened campaigner Stuart Elliott.
There were certainly plenty of tales to tell amid the ranks of elite Benchrest shooters as the A team unit of SSAA member Norm (squad captain), Stuart and John Matthews clinched top spot in their grouping. The C team line-up of Richard Lightfoot, Roy MacCarthy and Norm’s 12-year-old son Caden earned fifth placing. And a creditable ninth position was the end result for Joy Harrison, Bill Simmons and Richard Powell, who formed the B selection. Travelling reserve Peter Haberecht was also able to show his ability when he performed in the singles competition.
The outcome meant that Stuart became the first person to win gold at both the World Centrefire Championships (group shooting) and now the World Rimfire Championships (score shooting). It had been a goal of his since the Rimfire Championships started. Stuart’s Centrefire golds came in 1995 and 2009.
Judging by what the intrepid Aussies contingent managed, the whole trip was one to remember forever. “It was a pretty awesome experience,” said Norm. “We started with practice then went into the team events. It was quite intense as you tend to shoot differently as teams than individuals because you don’t want to let the others in your team down.”
As well as concentrating on his own role as overall team captain, Norm was busy keeping an eye on Caden. “Caden had a bit of a panic attack at first as he was wondering whether he could match up with the rest and he was feeling like a bit of a spare part,” said Norm. “But Stuart [Elliott] has been through all this before. He took Caden aside and had a bit of a talk which did him the world of good...Stuart was a real stalwart, as was Richard Lightfoot.”
Norm was pleased to be part of the winning combination but was also understandably thrilled at how young Caden came to terms with the whole adventure. “Caden has come away so completely different and he is going to be a force to be reckoned with,” said Norm. “He now has the ability to stop and judge the wind which is amazing.
“He has come away a lot different in attitude. By the end his confidence had grown so much. He felt that he belonged in this company of competitors and he was almost shooting like a machine.
“He is a typical kid in that he has no fear and just got better and better at picking conditions.”
The burgeoning interest on the Facebook connection from supporters and rivals alike added to the Australians feeling that the mission had been a job well done. “The Italians, the Portuguese, Spanish and French started following the page to see what was going on,” said Norm. “In the end there were even people who didn’t speak English who were looking in to see what the Aussies were setting up.”
As far as Stuart was concerned, he has attended plenty of World Championships. But he was totally absorbed and rated the end result as being up there with his best achievements. “Things really went to plan and that after all is the main plan. Creating and maintaining a ‘whole team’ spirit is what will determine success in the end,” said Stuart. “This is my eighth World Championships so I’m pretty familiar with what’s required at this level. But with this group of three teams plus one reserve shooter we seemed to achieve the perfect combination of cooperation and mutual respect. Everyone was focused and controlled. Sharing information is critical to ‘learning’ a new range in a short time.”
The range is located in the Jamor Sports Park complex within the Lisbon city outskirts, among residential areas. This range itself is what is called a ‘protected range’, which is open air but walled off on three sides with tall trees above these. So wind travelling above those trees tends to suck and swirl air down on the range floor where the bullets will travel to the targets 50m away. There is also a safety baffle at 10m and then two shade cloth-covered dividers stretch out to 25m. All of which combine to have a major effect on wind flows and therefore bullet drift. After all, Benchrest shooting is primarily all about the wind read.
“A range like this gives very unpredictable vertical shot displacements so all shooters need to be careful and figure out as soon as possible which combinations of wind effects are good to shoot and which are not,” said Stuart. “This range came with a certain reputation. In the many years before only ever two times had shooters shot perfect score targets of 250. So we knew from that alone things would be tough work here.”
But that is what World Championships should be - tough conditions, country versus country, shoulder to shoulder. In particular, Stuart was full of praise for the team ethic, which seemed to be at the core of the Australians’ success. “Everyone was really excited to have 12-year-old Caden in the group. He is a really nice young lad and very smart and skilful. What a great achievement to represent his country in an adult team at age 12,” he said.
“It is much more difficult to shoot as a team than as an individual,” said Stuart. “The three teams went there as a group and we tried to plan together as much as we can. Before we left Australia, before the start of the event in Portugal, we made the decisions about placing of the wind flags and other wind probe indicators and reading the wind, which is the most critical thing. The enemy is only the time clock.”
The entire group worked in unison but Stuart was fortunate to be part of the A team, which finished on top to round off a dream trek. “I felt we gelled together perfectly,” he said. “We were leading halfway through which, strange as it sounds, can actually make things more difficult. But in those situations I usually suggest it can be best to go ahead and imagine we are behind some team that is 10 points ahead of us. Therefore shoot aggressively and not defensively.
“John [Matthews] seemed concerned he was lagging behind a little. But in fact he was doing just fine and his scores were even better on the last day. We managed to hang on to win, which again shows the spirit of the team.”
The next World Rimfire Benchrest Championships will be held possibly in Italy in 2018 and the Australians can look ahead with confidence after their exploits in Lisbon.