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Rio Olympics 2016: Our top gun Natalie Rooney sets sights on more funds

By David Leggat

Natalie Rooney picks up New Zealand's first medal of the Rio games after winning Silver in the womens trap shooting. Photo / Photosport
Natalie Rooney picks up New Zealand's first medal of the Rio games after winning Silver in the womens trap shooting. Photo / Photosport

Natalie Rooney, poster girl for shooting? It might sound an odd fit for the 28-year-old from Timaru but if it helps the sport gain greater acceptance and credibility, then fine.

Having won New Zealand's first medal at the Rio Olympics in the women's trap, silver behind Australia's Catherine Skinner, has sharpened Rooney's desire to press on in a sport which has credibility issues not of its own doing.

Just look about the world and, as past president of New Zealand Clay Target Association Trevor Manson said yesterday, "shooting gets a bum rap. Everything bad around the world is related to shooting".

Rooney, a strong advocate for the sport, says the first thing shooters learn is gun safety. "Anyone in competitive shooting is safe around firearms."

There's also the hope her success might lead to more financial support from High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ).

Rooney received $20,000 this year which helps, but her predicament is not dissimilar to a host of other sports: you've got to travel to compete against the best and thus improve. It's a tough equation.

"It would be awesome if it did [lead to more funding]," Rooney told the Herald. "Especially to help people coming through."

HPSNZ were quick out of the blocks in the wake of her success. "SILVER! Natalie Rooney, Trap Shooting. Our first medal of the Games!" it tweeted. Whether that glee will lead to cold, hard cash will be known in December when the next handout to sports comes from HPSNZ. There should certainly be more in the kitty going shooting's way, and especially if Rooney's Rio team mates Taylor and Chloe Tipple can produced strong showings in their smallbore and skeet events respectively.

Rooney, who works for her father Gary in his earthmoving business, has relied on him for support in her four-year campaign which produced such a memorable outcome today. Fittingly, he was in the stand looking on during yesterday's thrilling action.

Rooney's success is not remotely like the stories emerging from sports such as rowing, sailing and cycling where repeat, bulk success produces substantial support.

The only other New Zealander to have been on an Olympic shooting dais was Christchurch smallbore marksman Ian Ballinger, at Mexico City in 1968, so it has been a long time between shots, so to speak.

She qualified fifth yesterday with 68 out of 75, and was second equal in the semifinal with American Corey Cogdell, both with 13 out of 15. Rooney then won the shootoff and had an early edge in the final, as Skinner faltered twice in her first four shots.

However, Skinner found her range just as Rooney dropped four out of seven shots midway through. Skinner finished with 12 out of 15, one ahead of the New Zealander.

Rooney had her chance for gold, but couldn't seal the deal.

"I would have liked gold but just to make that gold medal match was amazing. I hadn't had the best of luck in semifinals in the past," Rooney said.

She also has no regrets looking back at missing out on the London Games in a quota stoush which led to Rooney's team mate Levin's Ryan Taylor getting a trip, while she missed out.

"I'm a much better shooter than I was four years ago. Back then I wouldn't have been ready for it. No way would I have medalled, and it has made me a stronger shooter."

You'll never have heard of Andrea Miotti either, but the four years spent working with the Italian coach have worked wonders.

"It has been incredible. I got a new gun, that was the first step and made a big different to my shooting, I've been more consistent and my coach has helped me understand what I was doing wrong.

"I'm better in my movements and have committed to three overseas competitions a year. That's made a big difference, getting that maturity to compete against these girls all the time."

Rooney's mother, Adrienne, died in 2013 after battling breast cancer. She would have been proud of her daughter, her uncle Peter Grant said. The World Cup final in Italy in October beckons but she's a South Canterbury girl from Waimate at heart, the pride of Craighead Diocesan in Timaru, and can't wait to get home. There's the Canterbury provincials coming up early next month.

She'll be there, if not quite just another face in the crowd now.

Silver hotshot

• Natalie Rooney's silver medal enhances Timaru's standing among New Zealand's most successful Olympic towns.

• It sits third in a Herald study into the country's top towns and Rooney is the fourth medallist from there.

• Timaruvians Les O'Connell won gold in the coxless four in Los Angeles in 1984; Danyon Loader won three medals, one silver, two gold, at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics; and cyclist Marc Ryan won bronzes in the 4000m team pursuit in 2008 and 2012.

- NZ Herald

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