Team Malta on course to reach targets, says Pace Bonello
Malta's chef-de-mission Julian Pace Bonello declared himself optimistic that the Maltese athletes will achieve their pre-set targets at the 2008 Olympics which got underway yesterday with a fascinating opening ceremony at the Bird's Nest, China's National Stadium.
The Maltese team in Beijing is made up of six athletes, namely sprinters Charlene Attard and Nicolai Portelli, swimmers Ryan Gambin and Madeleine Scerri, double trap shooter William Chetcuti and judoka Marcon Bezzina, Malta's flag bearer during the opening ceremony. Lino Farrugia Sacco, the Maltese Olympic Committee (MOC) president, and secretary general Joe Cassar are accompanying the Maltese contingent in Beijing.
Pace Bonello said yesterday that the Maltese athletes have settled down nicely in the Chinese capital and were focused on producing a strong performance at the Games.
"I'm pleased to report that all the athletes in our contingent have settled well here and are preparing for their respective events in good spirits," Pace Bonello told The Times a few hours before the opening ceremony.
"I believe we made the right decision to send our athletes to Beijing a few days before the Games' start as they had time to recover from jet lag. Besides, they have all trained in the events' venues on more than one occasion and this should help them feel more at ease on competition day.
"Our targets for Beijing are well-documented and given the intense preparation of our athletes, I firmly believe that we can return home with some very positive results.
"Winning an Olympic medal is very difficult but in swimming and athletics, we are confident of setting new national records."
Much of the attention in the build-up to Malta's participation in Beijing has been on double trap shooter William Chetcuti, long regarded as the country's best prospect of challenging for a medal.
At the last news conference before Team Malta's departure for the Games, the MOC declared that they were hoping the Mellieħa shooter would qualify for the final barrage.
Chetcuti has been training at the Beijing Shooting range for the past week and Pace Bonello said his results in practice augur well for his chances of earning a top-six finish.
"Chetcuti has been doing very well since his arrival in Beijing," Pace Bonello said.
"He has been training hard under the supervision of coach Jimmy Bugeja and judging by the scores he has obtained in the various practice shoots, he should be among the leading contenders for the final.
"Everyone is aware of Chetcuti's talent. William has proved time and again that he is among the best shooters in the world. We are doing everything we can to keep him in good spirits and hopefully, he will deliver on competition day."
Chetcuti and judoka Bezzina will lift the curtains on Malta's participation in Beijing when they compete in their respective events on Tuesday.
The double trap competition has an entry field of 19 shooters who have qualified for the Games either by gaining the quota or by receiving a wild card from the International Shooting Sport Federation.
In Tuesday's qualifiers, Chetcuti has been drawn in the first group and will be the fourth athlete to shoot. The other shooters in the group are India's Rajyavardhan Singh, Hungary's Roland Gerebics, Vitaly Fokeev, of Russia, and Britain's Scott Steven.
The double trap qualifying round begins at 3 a.m. (Malta time) with the barrage scheduled for 7 a.m.
Bezzina has been handed a tough draw in the U-63 kg category after being pitted against Algeria's Kahina Saidi, a gold medallist at last year's African Games. The opening bouts at the Beijing University Gymnasium start at 6 a.m.
Pace Bonello also revealed that Gambin and Scerri will don the controversial Speedo LZR Race suit during their events at the state-of-the-art National Aquatics Centre.
The suit has proved a hit among the world's top swimmers as several world records have tumbled since its much-hyped arrival on the market.
"It's a huge boost for our swi-mmers to be wearing the best swimwear around," Pace Bonello said.
"I can't really comment on the impact these suits have had on results but it looks like they are making a difference. Hopefully, these suits will bolster our swimmers' chances of achieving their goals in Beijing."
Team Malta's schedule
Shooting - William Chetcuti
Double Trap qualifiers - Tuesday at 3 a.m. (Malta time).
Judo - Marcon Bezzina
U-63kg qualifiers - Tuesday at 6 a.m.
Swimming - Ryan Gambin
100m fly men's heats - Thursday at 2 p.m.
Swimming - Madeleine Scerri
100m free women's heat - Wednesday at 12.30 p.m.
Athletics - Charlene Attard
100m women's heats - Saturday, August 16 at 3.50 a.m.
Athletics - Nicolai Portelli
200m heats - Monday, August 18 at 7.05 a.m.