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Pritchard all set for shot at Olympics

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CANTERBURY-born biathlete Hugh Pritchard will realise his Olympic dream next month after a nerve-racking wait ended with a call-up to the Great Britain relay team for Salt Lake City.

Pritchard's selection for the four-man relay team was confirmed by the British Olympic Association but only after they had kept him on tenterhooks for more than hour. He and team-mate Jason Sklenar finished their World Cup race in Ruhpolding, Germany, just 15 minutes before the deadline set by the BOA to achieve the qualifying standard for the event which combines shooting and cross-country skiing.

The pair needed to finish within 10 per cent of the winner, but missed out by just 1.17 per cent. Around 18 months ago Canterbury-born Pritchard,put his career as a chartered accountant on hold in a bid to make the Winter Olympics, but waiting for the call at Ruhpolding, he feared his chance to go to Utah had gone.

"The relay team had qualified from the previous season but the BOA still needed to see that we had not suffered a big dip in form," he said. "When I saw the results and realised we were outside 10 per cent I thought 'That's it I'm not going".

"I warmed down and then went into the VIP tent and was told there was a meeting of the BOA. They said they'd let us know as soon as a decision had been made. I had some Bavarian grub and apple juice and then they rang through on the performance director's mobile. When he put his thumb up it was a relief as much as anything."

Normally contested over 10k or 20k, the biathlon tests a competitor's stamina and endurance as well as their ability to remain composed while shooting at targets, while both prone and standing. At 33 Pritchard is the second oldest member of Team GB, and he is also the only civilian.

All three of his colleagues, including 39-year-old Mike Dixon, making a record-breaking sixth appearance at the Winter Olympics, are based in Aviemore, Scotland, and are professional soldiers. Britain are ranked 19th in the world although they are the highest placed country unable to train at home. They last competed in the Winter Olympics biathlon at Lillehammer in 1994.

Since making the decision to concentrate on his sport full-time in June 2000, Pritchard spends most of the year living and training in Ruhpolding, although his family home remains in Joy Lane, Whitstable. He will go to the Olympics with just half-a-dozen World Cup races under his belt, making him a relative novice.

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