It's bronze — at 54!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 6:49 AM ET

Susan Nattrass should have the old motto engraved on her rifle butt and tattooed on her, well, maybe not there. Somewhere.

"I'm not as good as I once was but, once, I'm as good as I ever was."

At age 54 -- two years after it looked like her trapshooting career had blown up in her face at the Pan-Am Games in the Dominican Republic -- Nattrass has returned with a bronze medal at the world championships.

"Old Susan is back," declared the Edmonton shooter, who won six consecutive world women's trap championships way back when she wasn't "Old Susan" in the non-Olympic years of 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1981.

In 2001, Nattrass shocked the shooting world by winning silver at the event. And now, with her 84-year-old mother in tow as coach after years of not being able to travel to watch her daughter compete because of health problems, the old-enough-to-be-a-grandmother Nattrass has shown them again.

"There were 61 women in the field," Nattrass said of the Worlds in Lonato, Italy.

"It was the biggest one ever. And it was neat that the three people on the podium were all former world champions," she added of gold-medal winner Deborah Gelisio of Italy and silver-medal winner Irina Laritcheva of Russia.

But the neatest thing, she said, was having her mom there coaching.

"Mom uses a walker and because of her health hasn't been able to go with me in recent years. She'll be 85 in July and she loves Italy and she just decided she was going to go with me.

"It was outstanding. I just loved seeing her there when I was shooting. She wasn't just there to watch, she was there to coach.

SHOOTING LOW

"She really helped me. At one point she picked up that I was shooting low and I made an adjustment with the gun."

But it was in the final where having her mom there really paid off.

"I made my first two shots and then missed three in a row," she said, admitting she felt like she was about to experience the Olympic final disaster all over again.

"I looked at her and she made a motion my dad used to make to me," she said of her late international trap-shooting father Floyd.

The motion was a little circle with her finger. "It was the little sign my father used to make to get me to speed up. I only missed two after that," she said.

Gelisio ended up with 91, Laritcheva 90 and Nattrass 89. Susanne Kiermayer of Germany ended up fourth with 86, Huke Ma of China 85, and Deserie Baynes of Australia, 81.

GUN BROKE

Two years ago Nattrass failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics when her gun broke in the middle of competition.

But the woman who broke the gender barrier at the Montreal Olympics and was the first to compete with the men -- who is given credit for talking the IOC into creating a women's trap-shooting event -- was given a quota spot by the international federation and approved by the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Many figured it was the perfect place for her to call it a career. But she couldn't. Not the way it worked out. It took her 53 years and five trips to get to a final at the Olympic Games. And then she gagged on it.

Nattrass was one shot short of an Olympic medal when the final six shooters took to the line at the Markopoulo Olympic range where the wind blew and she blew up.

The Canadian athlete who was given the honour of walking in position 'A' on the outside corner of the first row in the opening ceremonies was on the verge of not only winning Canada's first medal at the XXVIII Games, but of becoming one of the very best stories of the Olympics. She missed shots 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 and five more after that.

It was difficult to write that a 53-year-old woman in their fifth Olympics choked. But that was the story.

Less than a year later in the same situation, she didn't. After her mom made that motion with her finger, she didn't allow any more misses to multiply. She got the medal.

So it's a go to next year's Commonwealth Games? Then another Pan-Ams? A sixth Olympics? At age 57? "After the Olympics I said one year at a time. That's what I'm doing. But I really enjoyed this."

Where she stops, nobody knows.


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