Men’s trap shooting world champion, James Willett, was forced to dig deep and overcome a slow start to capture the Commonwealth Championship gold medal at the Newcastle Lake Macquarie Clay Target Club today.
Willett, from NSW, faced stern competition from an unlikely source when he trailed Victorian Vinnie Mollica by three shots after the opening 25 targets before finding his rhythm and displaying his class to peel off 25 perfect scores to clinch a solid victory.
Willett, who reached the Olympic men’s trap final at the 2016 Rio Games, eventually claimed 46 of 50 targets in winning the gold medal ahead of Mollica (43 targets) with Victoria’s Mitch Iles (34 targets) placed third.
Although he impressed with an excellent display, Mollica’s past performances failed to earn him selection on Australian teams where he could register a Minimum Qualification Score at international events and be considered for Tokyo Olympic Games selection.
In winning the event, Willett earned six bonus points in addition to the 121 points scored in the five qualifying rounds of 25 shots and has opened a healthy seven point lead over Iles in the race to win automatic Olympic team selection.
“It was a good final and a nice way to start the year. Vinnie kept the pressure on me, and I was forced to claw my way back,” said Willett.
“I was aware of the scores and I knew what I had to do, and I was very pleased to shoot 25 out of 25 at the back end,” he added.
“The winds were tricky and it became darker which made conditions difficult,” he added.
Earlier, Willett’s Rio Olympic Games team-mate, Laetisha Scanlan, performed brilliantly in winning the Commonwealth Championship women’s trap final.
Scanlan (47 targets) performed outstandingly in blustery conditions only missing three targets to comfortably defeat fellow Victorians Penny Smith (40 targets) and 2016 Rio Olympic Games gold medallist, Catherine Skinner (29 targets).
Scanlan, a triple Commonwealth Games gold medallist, set a commanding standard downing the first 17 targets before recording her first miss with her 18th shot.
After two further mid-round misses, Scanlan was then faultless with her final 20 targets.
“The conditions were tough and it’s not an easy range to shoot at. I knew that coming into the competition and I wanted to get out early with a lead and I was very happy to get the win,” she said.
“It’s always great to get a win at the first event of the year. With the Christmas and New Year holiday period, I was strategic with a plan to come and shoot well and I managed to pull it off today,” she added.
Scanlan qualified for the final one point behind Smith and, after gaining final bonus points, they jointly top the women’s trap Olympic selection table each with 121 points with Skinner in third place on 117 points.
Australia has gained two Tokyo Olympic Games quota positions in both the men’s and women’s trap and the shooting athletes will contest the National Championship later this week.