Shooting star shines bright

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

Susan Nattrass never listens when a Games end and the "youth of the world" is invited to gather again in four years' time.

It's been a long time since she's been a youth. And she's never needed the invitation. She'll be there.

But next month Nattrass is going to a Games in a way she's never gone before.

At the age of 56, she's been invited to be Canada's flag bearer for the 2007 Pan-Am Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Edmonton trapshooter has such an amazing resume that she had to correct her introduction as a five-time Olympian, seven-time (and current) world champion, four-time Pan-Am Games member and 29-time Canadian champion.

"It's 36-time," she said of that last one.

And if you figure this is the perfect final chapter of the Susan Nattrass story, you ought to know better. She's already decided to stay through 2009 to make it 40 consecutive years in competitive trapshooting.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS

But being the flag bearer for a Pan-Am Games team, at age 56, is just about as good as it gets for the daughter of international shooter Floyd Nattrass and a woman who still flies her 87-year-old mother from Edmonton to world championships almost every year.

"It's an absolute thrill and I'm very, very honoured," said Nattrass, who broke the gender barrier and competed alone with the men at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

"Those who know me know it's absolutely rare for this, but when I was told, I was quite speechless," she said on the conference call, her voice breaking.

"It was very emotional for me as you can tell. It's a dream come true. At the 2004 Olympics, I was chosen to be on the front line (of Canadian athletes marching into the stadium). I thought that was as close as it could get.

"This is an amazing experience. It's such an honour. I never expected it. I never dreamed about it."

Her last Pan-Am Games, however, wasn't such a wonderful experience.

"That was my most frustrating Games," she said of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic four years ago.

"My gun broke. Not only once. Every round, it malfunctioned. Eventually I found out what was wrong. It was a part of the gun I don't even know about."

It was also a qualifier for the Athens Olympics and her Olympic hopes looked like they'd blown up in her hands.

"I was absolutely devastated. I came fourth and didn't qualify."

She did, however, win a bronze in double trap and received a special circumstance spot on the Athens Olympic team.

Canada already has a quota spot for Beijing 2008, and Nattrass leads all the Canadians in her event. She'll almost certainly be there.

Inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame way back in 1975 and enshrined into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame two years later, she was also named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

In her other life she's Dr. Nattrass, research director for Pacific Medical Centers and director of the Puget Sound Osteoporosis Centre in Seattle.

She brings plenty of Games' opening ceremonies experience to the job of flag bearer.

"I learned to bring water with you," she laughed. "Actually, it's so much nicer now than in my first one. In 1976 we stood out there and stood out there and stood out there. Now they put us in place and make sure we have food and water.

SHARP ELBOWS

"And this time I won't have to sharpen my elbows," she said of recent experiences with teammates trying to position themselves to get on television.

She'll be out there all alone, with the Canadian flag up front.

"I just love it," she said of opening ceremonies. "It's such a wonderful experience."

And there's no problem carrying the flag in Rio. The Games begin on July 13. The trapshooting event is set for July 17. The only problem is going to be to contain her emotions.

Will she cry?

"Of course I'll cry. I'm already crying," she said.


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