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Retaining the junior title was never going to be easy – Xuereb

Nathan Lee Xuereb flanked by coach Jimmy Bugeja (right) and William Chetcuti, yesterday.

Nathan Lee Xuereb flanked by coach Jimmy Bugeja (right) and William Chetcuti, yesterday.

Nathan Lee Xuereb and coach Jimmy Bugeja were given a rousing welcome by the Malta Shooting Sport Federation fraternity yesterday on their return from the European Championships in Hungary where the talented shooter confirmed his status as the continent’s top junior in Double Trap for a second year running.

Xuereb, 17, started Sunday’s shoot in Sarlospuszta as defending champion following his success in Suhl last year where he won the title after compiling a world record score of 141 in his category.

In Hungary, Xuereb started well after placing third at the end of the qualifying round with a score of 136 points. He was three clays behind early leader Kirill Fokeev, the Russian marksman he beat for the title last year.

Anton Slepushkin, another Russian, was second on 137.

Perhaps, Xuereb’s toughest test came in the semi-finals where his score of 26 from 30 clays left him tied in first place with three other shooters, Fokeev, Slepushkin and Britain’s James Dedman.

A shoot-out was needed to determine the two finalists and the other pair in a decider for third place.

Xuereb showed nerves of steel to book his place in the gold medal match where he outscored Dedman 26-22.

“This second junior title ranks high in my achievements’ list,” Xuereb told Times of Malta.

“Winning the title a first time is always tricky but to defend it successfully a year later is even more difficult as the pressure becomes bigger.

“Honestly, I didn’t think I could win the gold medal again in this competition. There were a lot of expectations on me which made things harder.

“Although I faced almost the same shooters I beat last year, it was hard to produce the same kind of performance that won me the title as in Suhl I also set a world record score that still exists today.

“The shoot-off was crucial as we were all vying for a place in the final but I knew that if I stayed 100 per cent focused that would help me reach my objective.”

The exploits in Hungary are a great confidence boost for Xuereb ahead of next month’s Commonwealth Games where he will be shooting for the country along with William Chetcuti who also won the European junior title in 2004.

Xuereb said his current form showed that preparations for Glasgow were on track.

“The Commonwealths are close now but the training has been good as this result clearly shows. The technical and mental preparation have been excellent,” Xuereb said.

“These last few months, I did a lot of practising with Jimmy Bugeja and I feel that our sacrifices are bearing fruit.

“I want to do well in Glasgow but I won’t promise anything other than giving my 100 per cent.”

Future prospects

Coach Bugeja was proud of his young protégé.

“Nathan continues to flourish and it was really satisfying to see him competing so strongly at this level,” he said.

“Personally, I think this title is a bigger achievement than the one of 2013 as this time he had to fight all the way to overcome the strong challenge of the other contenders.

“Competition was tough with four of the best all with a chance for a final slot but Nathan showed great mental strength to overcome the situation and he should be proud of himself.”

Bugeja also said he was im-pressed with Xuereb’s progress.

“Nathan has been competing on the international scene for four years now,” Bugeja remarked.

“He has matured into a solid shooter and he is only 17.

“We know that he is still far from a finished product. There is more potential left in him.

“If he stays grounded and continues to show the same kind of dedication in training he can achieve bigger things in the future.”

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