Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Granny gets her gun and heads for the Olympics

AIMING HIGH Annette Woodward has her sights set on a gold medal. She will be the oldest person to represent Australia at the Olympics since 1976

REUTERS , SYDNEY

A pistol-packing grandmother is set to become Australia's oldest Olympian in 28 years after earning selection in the shooting team for the Athens Games.

At an age when many of her contemporaries are starting to slow down, 56-year-old Annette Woodward has her finger on the trigger and her sights set on Olympic gold.

"I think it just shows what self-belief can do," Woodward told Reuters. "Because of my age I didn't really think I could make the team so I'm pretty pleased with what I've done."

Woodward's selection for the 25m pistol event for Athens was as remarkable as it was unlikely.

Not only did she come out of retirement to make the team, but she will also become the oldest person to represent Australia at an Olympics since equestrian Bill Roycroft won a three-day event bronze medal at Montreal in 1976 aged 61.

A mother of six, Woodward had never held a gun, let alone fired one, when she suddenly became interested in the sport after watching the 52-year-old Patricia Dench win bronze at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Inspired by her compatriot, Woodward decided she too wanted to be an Olympian. She first tried archery but did not like it so went down to her local shooting club and asked if she could have a try.

"Like a lot of people I was frightened of guns, I thought it was all cops and robbers stuff," she said. "But I hit the target with my very first shot and I was hooked straight away."

Woodward quickly set about making up for lost time. She made the Victoria state team a year later but it was not until 1990, when the last of her children had been enrolled in school, that she started to take the sport seriously.

A natural talent, she won two gold medals at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada and represented Australia at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, finishing 20th.

She won a third gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur but retired immediately to nurse her husband who had been diagnosed with cancer. He died in 1999.

"I couldn't do it any more when I lost my husband," Woodward said. "I just didn't have the ability to concentrate any more. I couldn't even stand on the line without thinking about him so I had to give it away."

Not long after her husband's premature death, a thief broke into Woodward's home and stole her shooting medals, though they were later discovered in a rubbish bin.

To help her deal with her grief, Woodward poured her energies into her job as a radiographer but after missing the Sydney Olympics and the 2002 Commonwealth Games she decided on a comeback.

"I really needed to make a comeback. I didn't want to leave the sport the way I had," she said. "I knew I had to learn to start dealing with things and getting back on the line was an important part of it."

Woodward initially planned to start training for a possible career in coaching but regained her form so quickly that she began to think about Athens. Now a grandmother, she knew that time was running out but she turned back the clock to earn her spot in the team and a place in history.

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