Lifestyle

Islander shooting for Olympic medal in Beijing

Sue Nattrass left for Beijing last week. - Graham Mayshark photo
Sue Nattrass left for Beijing last week.
— image credit: Graham Mayshark photo

Vashon resident, Canadian national and professional trapshooter Sue Nattrass, nominated early this July to Canada’s four-person Olympic shooting team, is aiming this August for the one target she has yet to hit in her illustrious 39-year career: an Olympic medal.

“No question about it, I’d love to win an Olympic medal. But as long as I shoot my best, I’ll be happy,” said Nattrass, 57, from her home on the north end of Vashon. “I just hope my best is better.”

Such assuredness is not without its merit.

Nattrass was the first woman to trapshoot — the sport of shooting a shotgun at a clay target — in the Olympics, when she competed in the 1976 Montreal Games. Born in Alberta, Canada, Nattrass began shooting at the age of 11 or 12 with her father, and has competed internationally since she was 18.

She has won seven World Championship titles and competed in five Olympic Games. Her trip to Beijing this month will likely be her last shot at Olympic hardware, as she plans to retire after next year.

“There was an attitude (internationally) that women couldn’t be as good as men,” said Natrass, speaking of her early days as a professional trapshooter. “So then when I did start beating all the men, it was really hard.”

Nattrass made a substantial declarative statement for female shooters when her gold medal-winning score for women’s trap at the 1978 World Championships was equivalent to the bronze medalist’s score for the men.

“Because of (how well women could shoot), the World Championships had men and women shooting on their own squads,” she said. “And as women internationally began shooting better, they cut the number of targets so that men still shoot out of 125, and women shoot out of 75, because they don’t want the comparison.”

Despite this apparent discrimination, Nattrass fought a five-year battle for separate men’s and women’s trapshooting in the Olympics. Her goal was realized at the 2000 Sydney Games.

“What happens with most countries is their funding is based on the Olympics, not World Championships,” said Nattrass. “So while women and men were competing in the Olympics together, all the funding and the coaching would go to the men. But with a separate women’s event, all of a sudden women gained credibility, funding and coaching, and now there’s even opportunity for women to be coaches.”

Since she began competing in 1969, Nattrass has been coached by her mother, Marie.

“Mom has gone with me to all the world championships,” said Natrass. “She’s never shot, but she certainly knew the sport because she used to go out with my father while he shot.”

For Nattrass, her attraction to trapshooting runs deeper than her drive to win.

“I do love physically shooting the target just to see it break. It’s really quite rewarding, seeing it break and smash to pieces,” she said. “But really, it’s a combination of things … I love competing, and genuinely like the people I meet. Also, I love the travel.”

Nattrass often commutes from Vashon to Vancouver, Canada, due to the lack of international shooting ranges. in the Seattle area The only one, in Renton, is only open sporadically in the summer and fall.

“The international, or what’s called the Olympic-style training, consists of shooting maybe six rounds, depending upon what else I have to do,” Nattrass said of her training. “There is also the physical training, such as going on a treadmill.”

Rounding out Canada’s Olympic team is Avianno Chao, 37, for the women’s air pistol and 25-meter pistol events, Johan Sauer, 40 for the men’s 50-meter prone rifle competition and Giuseppe Di Salvatore, 18, for men’s trapshooting.

After competing in Beijing this month, and perhaps crowning her career with the one medal that has eluded her thus far, Nattrass plans to retire. After the 2009 season, she will have competed in professional trapshooting for 40 years.

“Competing internationally takes a lot of time away from home, and a lot of money,” she said. “It’s just a drain. But my teammates all believe I will not retire.”

Still, Nattrass has her eye on some on-Island relaxation — a respite from the international travel and rigorous training that has defined her life since 1969.

“There are other things I would like to do,” she said. “I’m a member of the Vashon Island Golf & Country Club — I’d like to go golfing.”

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