Di Donna shoots for the stars

Picture by Getty

The men’s 10m air pistol at Atlanta 1996 boasted a high-quality field. Russia’s Sergei Pyzhyanov arrived as the world record holder, but he faced stiff competition from the previous two Olympic champions – 1988 winner Tanyu Kiriakov from Bulgaria, and China’s Wang Yifu, who had won gold in Barcelona.

There was a fourth major contender. He held no world records, and have never won an Olympic medal, but there was little doubting that Italy’s Roberto di Donna would be challenging for gold as he was in the form of his life, having won both of the two major events leading into Atlanta. These would be his third Games, and by his own reckoning, he was now far better placed to deal with the pressure of the occasion.

He certainly needed to be at his cool-headed best, because all of his main rivals were performing well. What’s more, the event suffered a surprise interruption when a tree fell on top of a power line, causing damage to the scoring system, and the competitors faced a nervous wait while it was repaired.

With just one round to do, the lead was held by Wang, who was a comfortable 3.8 points clear and looking well placed for another gold medal. But then, inexplicably, he lost focus for his final shot, scoring just 6.5. Di Donna meanwhile hit the centre to score 10.5 and catapult himself into gold medal position in the final standings.

Di Donna went on to add a bronze medal in the 50m pistol, where a lapse in concentration cost him a second gold.