Paths to Paris: Willett – trap shooter and carpenter – set to nail third Olympic appearance for Australia

XXXIII Olympic Games · Paris, FRA

Australia’s James Willett, 28, is heading for his third Olympics in Paris. He competed in double trap at the Rio 2016 Games, finishing fifth, and at the Tokyo 2020 Games, where he was 21st in the trap and seventh in the trap mixed team. He has twice finished fourth at the World Championships – in double trap in 2015 and trap in 2018. He won a fourth individual World Cup gold in Baku this month.

 You competed at the Rio 2016 Games as a 20-year-old and then at Tokyo 2020. How do you think these Olympic experiences would benefit you in terms of Paris 2024?

I think both past Olympic experiences will help me prepare for the Paris Games. I live and breathe shooting every day - it is my passion and something that I want to do for years to come so I think all of my experiences I have had up to this point in general will go along the way to help me shoot the best I can in Paris.

Obviously the Olympics is a different build-up and there is a lot of hype around the event so I think this is where my experience will help the most and allow me to prepare for the event as I need to. 

You were an early leader at the Rabat World Cup in February, eventually claiming bronze. Afterwards you commented: “I’m a little disappointed as I was in the lead at one point but then missed a couple of shots. But I’m still happy with the result.” How much of a building-block was that for you in your 2024 season?

Yeah, the result in Rabat earlier in the year definitely was a big building-block as it was great to get back onto the podium for the first time of the 2024 season and to be out in a final again with some very experienced shooters.

I learnt a few things during the final which I took with me into Baku and I think they paid off there. These events all contributed towards the Qualification Ranking for the Olympic Games (QROG) for me which was so important in the lead-up to Baku so I am really pleased with how the season is going so far. 

How different did things feel after your recent victory at the World Cup in Baku?

It obviously was a great feeling to have come away with the win in Baku. This was the last selection event for us athletes trying to qualify in the shotgun team for Paris where we had a first-past-the-post type selection series running since January at our national championships.

There was a lot of pressure from not only this selection series but also the pressure of trying to secure a quota place as currently we didn’t have one in men’s trap.

So there were multiple aspects of pressure on this event and I was really pleased to have been able to come away with a great result and to make a return to a world No.1 ranking for the first time since 2019.

I feel like my training and preparations have paid off in the lead-up to this event and I was really pleased to have had Russell Mark (Olympic double trap gold in 1996 and silver in 2000), who travelled with us to this event as part of the coaching team for our trap team, there to watch me in the coach’s chair in the final. We have been working together now for just over 10 years so this win in Baku really meant a lot to me and was a little special in that sense. 

You got stronger and stronger throughout that final. Are you hoping that will be the pattern for you in 2024?

Look I really hope so! We can’t predict how we are going to shoot in the future but I believe the momentum is going in the right direction for me and I will be preparing the best I can now for the rest of the year with the Italy World Cup ahead and then into the Paris Games in July. 

You said after your Baku final that you should be in a good position now to get one of the Paris 2024 quota places through the ranking points system - but that it was now a “waiting game.” How are you going to occupy your time in the interim?!

Yes, that’s right. It’s definitely a waiting game now. But the numbers are in my favour as I accumulated a fair amount of points over the last two World Cups.

I am currently back at work in Australia now as a apprentice carpenter so this sometime allows me to focus on a different area while I am home. But of course I will still be waiting until the quotas are handed out in June for the QROG system. 

The women’s trap event is also looking very promising for Australia – what hopes do you have for your team-mates at the Paris Games?

I think Australia has one of the strongest women’s trap teams currently and I really think they will do well at the Games. I just really hope it is a successful Games for the shooting team all round. 

Who or what was your Olympic inspiration in shooting and/or other sports?

I think growing up I always had a strong interest in shooting from my father and this grew into a passion once I started shooting. I always grew up looking up to Michael Diamond ((Olympic double trap gold in 1996 and silver in 2000) and Russell Mark and really respected what they were able to achieve in the sport.

What started you in shooting and what is most satisfying about it?

My dad was always the reason I started shooting as he taught me to shoot from a young age on our family farm. It has been in our family history for many years as hunting and target shooting has been quite normal.

I think I took interest to the competitive side of it as I enjoy the challenges of the sport and the satisfaction when you are able to put big scores together and come away with a win. The next time you go out to shoot it actually doesn’t get any easier to win but often you are expected to do better so it always comes with new mental challenges. 

What has been your biggest challenge so far in your career?

I think for me when I found out double trap had been removed from the Olympic programme. It was a big challenge as I had not been shooting it very long and I don’t think I had the time to see what I could actually do in this discipline.

Obviously I wanted to keep representing my country in shooting so with Russell’s help I made the change to Olympic trap on a serious level. I am still pleased with how I am going with it but I have always wondered what could have been in double trap. 

Separate to this I think for us in Australia as shooting athletes it is necessary for us to have some sort of employment or job outside of the sport as we are in a sport which we can do for such a large portion of our life.

I am really lucky to have found a job where I am learning the carpentry trade and have fully flexible hours which I can work to suit my shooting career with Kennedy Builders in my local town.

I think finding some sort of life/work and shooting balance is a challenge but having the right people around you and supporting you through the career is a massive advantage and helps alleviate some of the pressure while travelling and competing. 

Which is the toughest aspect of shooting sport – the physical or the mental?

I believe they both play a part as you need to be physically strong enough to move the gun well under pressure in competition but the mental part does play the biggest role I think in being able to be competitive.

You can have everything physically perfect with your shooting but unless you have a strong mental routine and the ability to control your thoughts under pressure it’s not enough to be able to win. Even the smallest wrong thoughts can cause a miss in our sport - which I think makes it unique. 



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