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33 days to Delhi, still bagful of enthusiasm

other Updated: Sep 26, 2010 23:31 IST
Alberto Furlan

Over 1200 miles away from land, far enough for Napoleon to be exiled to, four athletes set sail from St Helena to attend the Commonwealth Games one month before they begin.

St Helena's shooters make up one of the smallest delegations at the Games, but having made a 33-day voyage (there is no airport on the island) to reach the Indian capital, they are definitely clocking in the longest round trip.

Carlos and Rico Yon, Cyril Leo and Colin Knipe, will be arriving today in Delhi after spending a month in Cape Town, which they reached after a 6-day boat trip from their small homeland.

St Helena's population is around 7,000, the majority of which on the main island itself, and its 47 square miles make it about the size of Gurgaon. Now Britain's second oldest dependent territory, its location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean makes training difficult.

“While there are two small-bore rifle clubs on the island, full-bore shooters have a tougher time of practicing, on a disused military range, due to the tremendous cost of ammunition and the difficulty in obtaining it,” said Eric Benjamin, chairman of the National Amateur Sports Association of St Helena.

Clearly they could not practice their sport on the ship, and have since managed just 'a practice shoot or two' in Cape Town.

Indeed, the athletes are all amateurs, unlike many of their European counterparts, and two hold jobs in a cable company and as a bus driver. While one of them has just retired, the youngest hasn't even left school. Despite the media storm surrounding preparations for the Games, they have decided to participate. “Given the choice of withdrawing from the Games or continuing, we wanted to continue, having travelled so far. We believe the situation had later improved,” said Benjamin.

An equally long trip awaits their return, serviced by only one ship, the RMS St Helena. The ship will deliver the athletes back home on the 30th of October, hopefully heavier with medals.

By then, they will have spent 65 days away from home.