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Sunday, May 28, 2000

Susan get your gun . . .
I once said if Susan Nattrass was an American, she'd be invited for dinner to the White House. And if she was Russian, they might decorate her with the Order of Yeltsin.

But here at home in Canada, she's just another female jock. Her name is not a household word.

I always refer to her as Canada's Annie Oakley. With justification. This doctor of philosophy has won the world trapshooting championship six times in succession. That's nothing to sneeze at.

In another few weeks, at age 49, Nattrass will be in Sydney, shooting for gold Down Under.

I have known Annie, er, Susan for a number of years. I admired her determination and resilience, her financial struggles and lack of government support. Then, after six golden years, something went wrong. She held the rifle with the same steady arm, focused with the same keen eye, but the results just weren't there.

"I finally had a long talk with a friend of mine who's a psychologist," Nattrass told me one day in May a few years ago. "That was in January and she suggested I was going in too many directions, trying to shoot, work as a journalist, teach university, study for my Masters degree, make appearances on behalf of amateur sports and mainly worry about finances."

Lesser athletes would have given up and concentrated on making a decent living. Not the Annie Oakley of the 21st century. She finished her studies, earned her PhD and wound up as medical researcher in osteoporosis at Pac Med Clinic in Seattle.

But she always carried her guns.

Not only that, she made good use of them. Last year, the holder of the privileged title of Officer of the Order of Canada, qualified in Japan for the 2000 Sydney Olympics when she earned one of the 12 quota spots allocated to the best shooters in a World Cup event. Still, she had to make the Canadian Olympic team at the recent Olympic trials in Sydney.

The Olympic site boosted her adrenalin and she won a silver medal to go with a new outlook on her athletic future.

"Last year, I didn't do well in international competition and was thinking probably I shouldn't be doing it any more," she told me recently. "Fortunately, my mother and my co-workers in Seattle kept encouraging me, so I stayed with it."

She shot well in a warmup meet at Brisbane and even better in Sydney. Out of 75 targets, she hit 71 and realized she'd made the Olympic team. She actually tied with Delphine Racinet of France, but relaxed too much in the final and placed second to the French woman.

Sydney will be her fourth Olympics, having previously competed in 1976 in Montreal, 1988 in Seoul and 1992 in Barcelona. She won six world championships between 1974 and 1981 and also was women's trapshooting world record-holder from 1974 to 1989.

Honours followed her everywhere. She won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's athlete of the year in 1981, edging out Wayne Gretzky.

Now she's all set to do well for Canada in Sydney.