Shooting: An Olympic Sport Guide

Excruciating tension, minute margins and unbreakable concentration - shooting is a unique Olympic challenge.

The sport has come a long way since live pigeons were the target at the Paris 1900 Games, now a feat of firing technology and technique.

It has featured in every Olympics apart from two, a fixture of the programme that produces unique champions and memorable stories.

With the announcement of the first four athletes who will represent Team GB on the range at Tokyo 2020, here’s everything you need to know about shooting.


There will be 15 gold medals on offer in Tokyo across a range of disciplines.

You’ll see bullseye shooting on an indoor range, using rifles and pistols, and outdoor clay pigeon shooting using shotguns.

Bullseye events are 10m air pistol, 25m rapid fire pistol, 10m air rifle and 50m rifle three positions: kneeling, prone and standing.

Making their debut in 2021 will be mixed 10m air rifle and air pistol team events.

Skeet and trap are the two classic shotgun disciplines.

It’s easy to tell the difference between the two - in skeet, targets are launched from one high and one low ‘house’ and in trap, they are launched from a single house.

Also, trap shooters move around five shooting stations on the range and skeet shooters visit eight.


In the women’s 10m air rifle at Rio 2016, the difference between gold and silver was a single point. With a winning score of 208, you could have heard a pin drop when USA’s Virginia Thrasher fired her final shot.

Bullseye events start with a qualifying round of 60 shots per athlete. A ranking of total scores produces a field, typically of eight, for the final.

This is where it gets really interesting - rifle and pistol finals are run in an elimination format, where after initial rounds the lowest-scoring shooter following each series of shots is knocked out.

Gold and silver medals are decided by a straight, head-to-head shoot-off.

Shotgun events are similar. Athletes take a qualification round of 125 shots for men and 75 for women - scores can be as high as 73.

The top six go through to a semi-final, with the first two then shooting off for gold and silver and third and fourth shooting for bronze.


Seonaid McIntosh is Britain’s best chance of a bullseye medal since… well, her sister.

Jennifer McIntosh represented Team GB on the range at Rio and London and her younger sister will make her Olympic debut in Tokyo.

The Edinburgh-born star is the first British woman to be ranked world number one for the 50m rifle three positions event.

Having won three World Cup medals in 2019, including gold at the final in Putian, China, Seonaid has nearly twice as many ranking points as her nearest rival and also became 50m rifle prone world champion in 2018.

No nation dominates the discipline, with different countries claiming gold in the event at every Games since Sydney 2000.

Meanwhile, Matt Coward-Holley goes to Japan as reigning trap world champion and brimming with confidence despite a disrupted 2020.

To put that into context, Rio bronze medallist Ed Ling was the only previous Briton to reach the trap podium at the World Championships until Coward-Holley came along.

The 26-year-old broke his back playing rugby as a teenager and will hope for a fairytale Olympic debut as one of the favourites for gold.

Italy are a force in shotgun events, with Mauro De Fillipis pushing the Brit all the way for global gold, and Croatia have won the last two Olympic titles. Josip Glasnovic will be back to defend his title alongside brother Anton.


Shooting is steeped in Olympic history.

Take American Sumner Paine, the 30m free pistol champion from the 1896 Games, who when he found his wife in bed with his daughter’s music teacher in 1901, shot at him four times but avoided jail time when the police accepted he must have missed on purpose, given his proven shooting prowess at the Olympics.

Few Games stories match that of Karoly Takacs. The Hungarian badly injured his shooting hand when a faulty grenade exploded during army training in 1938 - so learned to shoot with his left and won 25m rapid fire pistol gold at London 1948.

Malcolm Cooper, son of a naval officer from Surrey, is one of Team GB's Olympic shooting heroes.

He won 50m rifle three positions gold in 1984 and 1988, his country’s most recent bullseye medal. Cooper later went on to design rifles for the British army.

Meanwhile, Peter Wilson’s name is never far from anyone’s lips when it comes to shooting after his incredible double trap gold at London 2012.

Wilson, coached by Sheikh Ahmad Al Maktoum of Dubai, was one of three Team GB golds on the sixth day of the home Games and remains the event’s world record holder.

In Rio, Somerset crop farmer Ed Ling won trap bronze and Steve Scott also took bronze in the now-discontinued double trap.

Sportsbeat 2020