Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Monday, 21 July 2008 15:12 UK

Against the Odds: Ziad Richa


Ziad Richa on the struggles he has faced to get to the Olympics

The BBC's Against the Odds series profiles athletes heading to the Olympics despite huge obstacles.

Mike Sergeant meets a Lebanese shooter training near Beirut, where the noise of gunfire has been a familiar sound down the years.

Ziad Richa, 40, grew up to the sound of gunshots and explosions. Like many others who lived in Beirut during the civil war of 1975-1990, his childhood hopes were more about survival than winning Olympic gold.

Despite the recent political turmoil in his country, life has improved immeasurably since then.

Now he sells BMWs for a living, and is getting ready to compete in the Beijing games. His sport, appropriately or not, is shooting. Clay targets, of course.

"I would like to try to achieve something to help the people of Lebanon" he tells me. "I want to come back and give people happiness and joy. The Olympics - it's a dream for me".

'Crack of deadly gunfire'

On a hillside overlooking the Lebanese capital, he blasts moving targets with amazing accuracy in the warm afternoon sunshine.

Because of UN Resolution 1701 (which was designed to halt the war with Israel in 2006), it is impossible to buy shotguns or cartridges from the US or Europe

The valleys around Beirut have echoed to the crack of deadly gunfire often enough in recent decades.

But he insists his brand of shooting is completely benign.

"We are born in this country as hunters. In everybody's house you will find a minimum of one gun. But I will tell you honestly I carry a gun in a peaceful way."

He even argues that the success and local fame he has acquired can help heal wounds in this war-ravaged country.

"We are carrying a gun, and through this gun we are passing a message to everybody that you can do a nice sport peacefully.

"We have had enough of war. We want to live peacefully with our families and our friends."

'No living in shooting'

For Ziad Richa, the road to the Olympics hasn't been easy. For a start, he will be up against full-time highly-funded competitors from the US and Europe.

Ziad Richa
Secretary General of Lebanon Shooting Association
Placed 47th in Asian Skeet rankings list
In action on Friday 15 August, from 0200 GMT

In Lebanon, there is very little official support, not much sponsorship and the training facilities are limited.

There's no possibility of making a living out of competitive shooting. Ziad, in fact, has to pay almost all of his costs.

"Representing my country in the Olympic Games is a big honour for me," he says.

"I am not a professional. I am just a normal person who does this as a hobby".

'Bursts of violence'

It says much for his determination and skill that he has achieved Olympic qualification without the advantages enjoyed by athletes in some other countries.

Ziad Richa on representing his country at the Olympics

In Lebanon, even the simple things can be difficult.

Because of UN Resolution 1701 (which was designed to halt the war with Israel in 2006), it is impossible to buy shotguns or cartridges from the US or Europe.

So, he has to search other markets - including Turkey and Cyprus - for his kit.

Bursts of violence in Lebanon have also frequently disrupted Ziad's training programme. Despite the election of a new president, there is still great political uncertainty here.

"We are finding so many difficulties when we try to practice, especially since 2006. We have been having a lot of problems in our country. It's very hard for us to train."

Sometimes, the army sets up checkpoints around the area where he comes to shoot. They won't let anyone through who is carrying a gun.

When there is trouble on the streets, Ziad says he prefers to stay at home rather than go up to the range.

But, despite it all, Ziad knows he has the chance to achieve something quite unusual for himself and for Lebanon.

"I have the support of the people. When I tell everyone I am going to Beijing, they tell me how lucky I am!"

Here are a selection of your comments on this story:

As a Lebanese I am proud to see champs like Ziad representing our small country, I wish Ziad all the best in the Olympic game.
Eddy , Doha - Qatar

Ziad getting at the level he is at, without being a full-time professional shooter, is amazing. I'm new to Lebanon and love the strength of this people. Please convey my well wishes to Ziad
Faraz Siddiqui, Beirut, Lebanon

Ziad is an idol! hope he inspires the lebanese people around him that greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right use of strenght! As for the obstacles, i cannot but remind ziad of Albert Einstein's words that "great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds". Beijing or not, you re already a hero. As us lebanese say, BRAVO ziad!!
Zeina Chouman , Beirut , lebanon

My parents were born in Lebanon, this is a courageous and remarkable young man, to support himself and to represent his country while his own government doesn't. Lebanon is a complex but gorgeous country, Good luck in Beijing!!!
Aaron, Shanghai, China

Interesting story, now tell the one about UK target shooters having to practise in Switzerland because the UK gove associates target shooting with criminal activity. Easier to practise in Lebannon. They will let us have pistols mind you but only if we use them to "Police" the middle east for them.
Graham Balmforth, York, Uk

I shoot skeet occasionally and I can't imagine having to go through the obstacles Ziad has had to overcome in order to get this far. My hat is off to you, sir - congratulations on representing your country, and my best wishes for success at the Olympics.
AndyC, Dallas, Texas, USA

It's so refreshing to read about some one using guns in a peaceful manner, especially in Lebanon. I am Lebanese as well but haven't been back home in a while… I would love to see my country win at the Olympics, as well as more funding for sports and facilities, which have taken the back seat in priorities recently unfortunately. Good luck mate!
Tarek M, Toronto

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