Trap shooter Thomas Grice will be headed to his first Olympic Games in Tokyo next year, after the narrowest of margins secured him the spot.
Grice was forced to endure a nail-biting Olympic nomination series before finally getting the welcome phone call from National Shotgun Coach, Richard Sammon, that he would be nominated to the Australian Olympic Committee for selection in Tokyo.
“I was driving and had the phone on Bluetooth when he called. I nearly fell out the car door. I was smacking the side of the door that hard I was that happy. I nearly broke the window,” he said with a laugh.
Going into the fourth and final nomination event at SISC, Grice held a narrow two-point lead over 2016 Rio Olympian, Mitch Iles, for the second position behind runaway leader, James Willett – but not that he knew the precise margin.
“I very purposely had not done the maths. I knew I was in front, but by how many I didn’t know. I knew it wasn’t all that many. I figured if I don’t miss, he can’t catch me,” he said.
Because of the growing coronavirus concerns and that fact that he and Iles were the only athletes capable of capturing the second men’s trap position, they were the only shooters entered for the final event meaning that it was effectively a two-man shoot-off.
“It was strange, but I was there to do a job and I did a decent job of not letting too much rattle me. I thought I had four targets on him going into the event, but it turned out that I only had two,” he said.
“So, with a few targets to go in that last event, I thought I was in. I thought I had the second spot nailed down and I thought he can’t catch me here. Then I missed another one late in that last round and then went through clean from there and walked away at the end to find out I had him by two. That was tight.”
‘It’s hard to think that after 500 targets it would come down to one target,” he added.
Winning Olympic selection was Grice’s goal and he admits he has relied on hard work throughout his career, rather than natural ability, to attain his dream.
He has represented Australia on the international shooting circuit since he and younger brother James won selection to attend the 2012 Junior World Cup.
He went close to winning selection for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but the trap places were ultimately claimed by Adam Vella and Iles.
“It proved to me that I was capable of it,” he said.
Games selection ultimately came his way at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, but one poor round saw him finish out of medal contention.
“I’ve made vast improvements since then. I’m a far better shooter now than I was then. It was good experience, good exposure and hopefully it will hold me in good stead going into the Olympics.
“It was a great event, good fun and to be part of a home Games was just amazing. To see the support for shooting, which is so often reviled and gets dragged through the mud in the media, and to have a stand of people cheering for shooting, was excellent,” he added.
But a home Games can prove to be a distraction with family and friends part of a raucous crowd.
“I thought leading in I was doing a pretty good job of being able to distance myself from that and just focus on my shooting. But I don’t think I really did, looking back. It was good experience and I can certainly build from that.”
While Grice hasn’t fired a shot since the final Olympic nomination event in March, he has reviewed his training regime and has added more fitness work into his Tokyo Games preparation program, particularly with the purchase of a rowing machine and extra gym work.
“While there’s some excellent shooters that are very obviously not all that physically fit, I think it’s a great help to be far fitter, so I am working on my fitness a lot more than I ever have in the past. Hopefully, that’s going to put me in good stead going into the future.”
Additionally, through his association with the NSW Institute of Sport, he is working with a dietitian and intends to utilise physiotherapy services when he returns to firing at 300 targets a week in training.
Apart from his individual event in Tokyo, Grice will compete in the Mixed Pairs where he’s likely to be partnered with Victorian, Penny Smith.
The pair won the inaugural Mixed Pairs world title in 2017 and were bronze medallists behind teammates Willett and Laetisha Scanlan at last year’s World Championship.
When he goes to Tokyo, he knows anything is possible and fondly recalls the jaw-dropping Winter Olympic Games victory of Steven Bradbury.
“To finish first, first you must finish,” he said.