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Let the games begin - July 25, 2012

Josianne Facchetti meets some of the athletes flying the flag for Malta at the London Olympic Games.

William Chetcuti

William Chetcuti

At the shooting range in Bidnija, 27-year-old William Chetcuti takes aim as a clay pigeon spins in his line of vision from his left. He pulls the trigger and the clay pigeon splits in two, landing on the turf already mottled with orange fragments. This is where the Maltese shooter spends a lot of his time practising and improving his technique for the 2012 Olympic Games.

William first competed at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens where he finished ninth in a shoot-off. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics he finished eighth.

Jimmy Bugeja, Chetcuti’s coach, tells me that he had approached Chetcuti when very young and now he is a full time professional shooter ranking fifth in the world. He has won several cups and medals throughout his career.

“My aim is to do my utmost. I think that if I do my best I should be of the same level as my competitors,” William says.

The other athletes taking part in the 2012 London Olympic Games are Diane Borg and Rachid Chouhal who will be competing in the 100-metre sprint, Andrew Chetcuti competing in the 100-metre freestyle and Nicola Muscat competing in the 50-metre freestyle sprint.

Diane Borg. Photo: Chris Schembri BaldacchinoDiane Borg. Photo: Chris Schembri Baldacchino

21-year-old Diane Borg started taking part in sprinting competitions when she was 12 years old. She has won several medals in her nine-year running career.

“My first coach saw my potential. At the time my parents were concerned because they thought sports would hinder my studies. When they realised that because of my training I was improving at school too, they encouraged me to continue. My current coach Mario Bonello and my boyfriend are also always behind me.

“I had to compete against tough Maltese competitors to be chosen for the Olympics. It was challenging and tense. When I qualified I couldn’t believe it. I was in seventh heaven and still am. Now I can just focus on improving my technique. I love to see the improvement I make every time I sprint because I’m always improving my time.

“What I’m looking forward to most is walking behind the Maltese flag during the opening ceremony. The fact that I’ll be representing Malta with the best athletes and that everyone will be counting on me is a great feeling.”

Rachid Chouhal. Photo: Antonella ChouhalRachid Chouhal. Photo: Antonella Chouhal

Rachid Chouhal will be competing in the men’s 100 metre sprint.

“I am my own coach. I reason like an athlete and a coach,” he says. “I design my own training programme because apart from being an athlete, I am a qualified coach as well.”

His build-up to the Olympic Games has been a 12-year-long-strive. Now at 37 years of age he has almost reached his peak.

A typical pre-season training day for Chouhal is one and half hours in the morning which includes stretching, drills, core work and jogging followed by two to three hours rest. He then trains at the gym for one and a half hours and rests for four hours. In the evening he runs again.

“I normally do eight or 10 runs with a three-minute recovery.

“When I want something, I go for it. I am not afraid. I am confident in my training and am careful not to get hurt. I know that the level of the athletes competing in the 100 metre sprint is very high. My aim is to do a personal best or season’s best.”

Andrew Chetcuti. Photo: Francois Steenkamp Sportdxb.comAndrew Chetcuti. Photo: Francois Steenkamp Sportdxb.com

19-year-old Andrew Chetcuti started swimming when he was four years old.

“I started competing when I was 10 and have loved it ever since.”

Andrew, who has lived most of his life in Dubai says that Grant Kritzinger has been his life-long coach.

“I was just another average age group swimmer, decent but nothing noticeable, before he came along.

“While training, if I ever find myself getting tired and trying to go faster, I always tell myself that there is no such thing as trying – you either do it or you don’t. And not doing it is not an option.

“Before a race I don’t really think about anything. I just swim fast. I currently train 10 times a week – six two-hour swimming sessions and four gym sessions. I only take Sundays off. I know I will be in my best form and aim to improve on my own national time.”

Nicola Muscat. Photo: Stephen MuscatNicola Muscat. Photo: Stephen Muscat

18-year-old Nicola Muscat says that due to the very tight and busy swimming schedule, she is tired every single day, even at practice.

“Motivation, determination and the love of sport is what keeps me going. I have always focused only on what I do and therefore my strongest opponent will always be the stopwatch. In swimming, teams become like your second family as we spend so much time together. We got used to each other, including our coach – Andy Colbourn – and his training methods.

“Competing at international competitions makes you learn to be realistic about winning and making achievable aims. For example, my main aim at the Olympics is to break my own national record.”

Swimming has taught Nicola that if you are going to do something, you do it right and to the fullest.

“It has taught me to discipline myself in every way, to keep going when things get very hard and to never give up on what you believe in.”

Matthew SultanaMatthew Sultana

15-year-old Matthew Sultana will be representing Malta in the 2012 London Paralympics. I met Matthew at Inspire in Marsaskala where he was training. His parents convinced him to start swimming because he was unfit and lazy.

“I did not like it at first and was not in the mood. Now I can’t imagine life without swimming. It is my life and my goal now is the Paralympics. I do not say I am tired but just keep going because it is something I have to do and I do it.”

Matthew gets a lot of encouragement from his teammates, his coach Ebi Mohammadpour and his parents. He travels to London today as he has to be classified according to his disability. He is scheduled to swim on September 8.

“The confidence that sports gives me is incredible. Anyone with any disability should not give up.”

Sheer determination, motivation, optimism, mental strength and the ability to focus are traits that high-level athletes have in common. Few make it to the Olympics and fewer still win a medal. They know that just as it is hard to win it is also easy to lose, so they develop a resilience that is hard to measure.

As this year’s Olympics kick off, interest and excitement starts to build up. All athletes aim high – however these games should also be enjoyed for what they are because after all, the most important thing at the Olympics is not to win but to participate.

Olympic memories

Laurie Pace. Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiLaurie Pace. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

“The Olympic Games are the pinnacle of an athlete’s career. It is every athlete’s dream to be chosen to represent their country” says Deirdre Farrugia. When she was 19 years old, Deirdre competed at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the 100 and 200 metre sprint.

“The biggest thing is the opening ceremony,” she says. “It still gives me goosepimples when I think about being one of a team of seven to represent Malta and it makes me very proud. I used to train like a beast. So I used to be pretty good at focusing on the task at hand. I did my best and managed to achieve a personal best and broke the national record at the Olympics.”

Gail Rizzo was the first Maltese female swimmer to make it to the Olympics. She competed at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the 100 metre free style and backstroke and the 50 metre free style.

“The Olympic Games were like a dream. The biggest adrenaline rush was the opening ceremony as I walked behind the Maltese flag with people screaming around me.”

She recounts her first race at the Olympics.

“We were in a sound-proof room before the race. As the doors opened and we were called to take our positions the noise and the amount of cameras flashing were incredible.”

Laurie Pace’s life revolved around judo.

“Everything else came second. When I was 22 years old I could have qualified for the 1988 Seoul Olympics but only men were allowed to compete in judo back then. I had to wait until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when women were finally officially introduced to the games to compete.”

She later competed at the 1996 Atlanta and the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

“The Olympic village had a restaurant serving all the food imaginable and games rooms for athletes. It was ultra-secure. We were like a family training and eating together. It is a feeling that I wish to give to everyone.”

Judging sport

Peter Valentino. Photo: Juerg KaufmannPeter Valentino. Photo: Juerg Kaufmann

“These athletes have given up their life for sports. It is all they think about and all they do,” says international judge Peter Valentino who achieved his international judge status in 2000. He is one of just 300 international sailing judges worldwide. “Judging has taught me to speak less and listen more. When I listen to protests I sit down and find a solution that is fair. In judging you should not be shy to say and show what you think. You also have to explain whatever you do.”

When asked if he would prefer to judge at the 2012 London Olympics or the Paralympics, Valentino did not hesitate and chose the Paralympics because his experience in judging disabled sailors had left a very positive impact on him.

“These people are so full of life and are in love with life. All they want is access to what they want to do and not to be stopped. They are so focused and determined.”

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