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Saturday, July 22, 2000

Takin' his best shot

 Olympians who don't win medals usually have a built-in excuse that makes them feel better.

  If they fall short of the podium, they'll say they tried their best, that it wasn't their day. But they had a lovely time and what the heck, isn't the whole reason for the Games just being there competing, soaking up the universal spirit of sport and all that other sweet stuff?

  Still, not many feel completely vulnerable at the Games. Not many try to delete their Games experience from memory.

  What do you say then?

 Four years ago at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Winnipeg's world-class skeet shooter Jason Caswell suddenly discovered he couldn't hit the clay pigeons anymore.

  The biggest competition of his life, and Caswell couldn't hit the broadside of a barn if he was leaning against it.

  If this was pistols at 10 paces, he would've been a doomed man.

  And Caswell felt, more than anything, helpless.

  Not exactly your most Olympic-like emotion.

  "It was a bad experience; I don't even remember how I finished there," said the 26-year-old, back home from working on his master's thesis at Louisiana State University and preparing for his second Olympic Games appearance in Sydney, Australia this September.

  "All I remember was not feeling nervous at all. I didn't feel any pressure because I had been resigned to just trying not to embarrass myself.

  "There wasn't a lot I could do."

  He was a legitimate medal contender in Atlanta, yet he finished 53rd.

  But he didn't choke. Caswell simply couldn't see what he was shooting at.

  You see, Jason Caswell is colour blind. He has trouble picking up orange colours. He struggles when the range is full of large, deciduous trees in the background.

  In Atlanta, there was a lot of orange and a lot of big trees.

  Right now you're probably thinking, 'Well, call me as crazy as Charlie Heston, but if Jason's sport is based on being able to see what he's shooting at, how did he ever become a world-class skeeter in the first place?'

  Good question. Usually colour blindness doesn't factor into the competition.

  "There's been two places in the world where it's been so bad I couldn't see a thing," said Caswell, who's been to seven world championships and a ton of World Cups all over the globe. "Unfortunately, one of them was Wolf Creek in Atlanta at the Olympic Games."

  He has been back since to Wolf Creek, feeling he had some demons to exorcise.

  "I had just come off a competition where I was shooting world-record scores at Ft. Benning in Georgia," laughed Caswell, "so I went back to Atlanta with a buddy and bought a ticket for the range just to prove to myself that it wasn't some psycho-voodoo Olympic thing I was going through.

  "I tried again, and still couldn't see or shoot anything."

  The good news is Caswell's been to the Sydney site already, and it's smooth sailing for his sight lines.

  "Sydney's range is a lot like Winnipeg's, with a lot of open sky. It's very comfortable," said Caswell. "I've been shooting well lately, and I expect that to continue through the Olympics.

  "Right now, I'm where I want to be."

  He's thousands of miles away from his Atlanta disaster with a chance for redemption.

  And the only colours Caswell dreams about now are gold, silver, and bronze.