Tokyo Olympics: Team GB’s Matthew Coward-Holley on the hunt for fairytale gold after rugby dream ended

Matthew Coward-Holley is chasing fairytale gold at the Tokyo Olympics in men’s trap shooting – after his dream of becoming a professional rugby player ended when he broke his back twice as a schoolboy

If his career had gone as he had hoped, Matthew Coward-Holley might have played for the Lions in South Africa. Instead, the 26-year-old represents another British team on overseas soil, just thankful to be able to participate in sport at all.

Coward-Holley battles for Team GB in the men’s trap on Thursday morning and the world champion admits that ‘gold is definitely the target’. But the gunman has only found his way here after his dream of becoming a professional rugby player ended when he broke his back twice as a schoolboy.

“The first time it happened was during rugby practice at school when I was 13,” recalls Coward-Holley. “I fell to the floor a little weird and ended up with two broken vertebrae and a hernia. I couldn’t exercise for 18 months.

Briton Matthew Coward-Holley will participate in the trap shooting Thursday morning donderdag

Briton Matthew Coward-Holley will participate in the trap shooting Thursday morning donderdag

‘A few years later I finally started working out again and then I got another injury – the same thing again, only worse. I was in a game for my club Chelmsford and someone ran into my shoulder and bent me in half.

“I woke up the next morning and couldn’t get out of bed. I went to the emergency room and was immediately referred for scans. I had cracked three vertebrae, slipped two discs and completely disintegrated one.

‘I was in the hospital for a few weeks, bedridden. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to walk. It probably took me a few months to get back to normal.

“I was kind of told, ‘No more rugby, you’re experimenting a bit now’. I was advised that if this happens again it could be very serious and I could be wheelchair bound for the rest of my life.

He had to give up his dream of playing professional rugby after breaking his back twice

He had to give up his dream of playing professional rugby after breaking his back twice

He had to give up his dream of playing professional rugby after breaking his back twice

“I had a year off to think about what to do, because all I saw was a career in rugby. My dream was to play for England.’

Coward-Holley took up shooting, an activity he first tried with his father at the age of eight. It turned out to be a fruitful venture. Within a year he had made the England team. Within four years he was world champion in the double kick team.

Coward-Holley was selected as a reserve for Rio 2016 in the double trap, but when that discipline was taken out of the Tokyo Games, he switched to the single.

European champion Coward-Holley says winning Olympic gold would mean everything

European champion Coward-Holley says winning Olympic gold would mean everything

European champion Coward-Holley says winning Olympic gold would mean everything

That transition didn’t alarm Coward-Holley, who in that case won the gold medal at the 2019 World Championships – becoming the first Briton to win a world title in an individual Olympic shotgun discipline.

“An Olympic gold medal would mean everything,” said Coward-Holley, who was crowned European champion last month. “I sacrificed a lot in my effort to win.”

The Games will also be poignant for Coward-Holley after the death of Kevin Gill, the head coach of the British shotgun team, following a heart attack last year.

“It came as a huge shock to everyone I know because Kevin was a very fit and healthy man,” Coward-Holley added. “He was the head coach when I first got into the system and we had traveled all over the world together.

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