Matt Coward-Holley stood on an Olympic podium on Thursday and shook his head in disbelief as he collected bronze in the men’s trap.
A little over a decade ago, the 26-year-old found himself lying in hospital, his dreams of a career in professional rugby ended by a second serious back injury, but he has now converted himself into a world and European champion shooter – and an Olympic medallist to boot.
“To come away with a medal, being European and world champion and now Olympic bronze medallist is a little bit surreal,” he said.
“We all come here fighting for one medal but at the end of the day, it’s the Olympics and I think any medal is phenomenal.”
After a superb showing in the heats, Coward-Holley made a shaky start to Thursday’s final, missing three of his opening 10 shots before hitting 14 in a row to get back into the mix.
Though he could not get on terms with Czech Republic pair Jiri Liptak and David Kostelecky, who would go to a shoot-off for gold in which Liptak triumphed, Coward-Holley insisted he had no regrets.
“When you look at it, very few people do actually win medals at an Olympics, compared to the amount of people that compete,” he said. “To be on that roster actually having a medal, it is an unbelievable feeling.”
Chelmsford-born Coward-Holley was a promising prop in his teenage years but twice broke his back as a schoolboy in separate incidents.
After being advised to give up the game, he returned to shooting, a sport he had previously “done for fun” in his youth, but he could never have expected to reach this point.
“I didn’t really imagine it until I had broken onto the scene,” he said. “That’s when it became real that it could happen.
“Going to an Olympics was always a dream, but it doesn’t quite sink in that you could go and win medals until you get close to the event and you get that feeling.”
He first broke through in the double trap, winning bronze at the 2016 European Championships, but he switched to single trap in 2017 when the double was removed from the Olympic programme, and has not looked back.
Having replicated the bronze Ed Ling won in single trap and that Steven Scott took in the double in Rio five years ago, Coward-Holley has another event to come.
He will shoot alongside Kirsty Hegarty in the mixed team event which starts on Saturday – even if it means he will have to miss the British & Irish Lions’ Test against South Africa later in the day.
“We still have mixed pairs to shoot in a couple of days,” he said. “I’ve got more important things than the Lions to worry about at the minute. We will get the mixed pairs done and then we will go from there.”