Tokyo 2020: Five-time Olympian Burnett still shooting for the stars

Longford shooter becomes Olympian blue blood as he joins a select group including just walker Heffernan and sailor Wilkins

Derek Burnett: “If I can carry my domestic form across, like when I shot 98/100 in Dungarvan recently, then I will definitely be in the mix.”½

For buffs that read Olympic stuff – and there’s lots of it – Derek Burnett’s name keeps coming up. If anything else popped up as fast and frequently as his name does in Olympic records, the trap shooter might empty both barrels at it.

That’s because Burnett admirably doesn’t go away. He has never been an Olympian to call one Games enough, ‘did that and bought the tee-shirt’ has never been for him.

Competing in the shotgun trap, Burnett has been coming back again and again and has over the 21 years since he first competed moved into a different class of Irish athlete and became Olympic blue blood.

At the 2004 Olympic Games he finished in joint ninth place in the trap qualification, missing a place among the top six and not progressing to the final round. He also competed at the 2000, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and now in Tokyo 2021 at 51-years-old he is chasing the dream once again.


The Longford shooter is only the third Irish athlete to compete at his fifth Olympic Games after Cork walker Rob Heffernan and sailing's David Wilkins, who won the silver medal alongside James Wilkinson in the Moscow Olympics of 1980 in the flying Dutchman.

Burnett’s highest official Olympic finish of joint ninth in the Athens Games in 2004 has a small quibble attached.

"Officially on the scorecards, I finished ninth but it was really equal seventh as the two guys above me had the same score and the judges went with what you got on your last round," he explained to the Longford Leader before flying out to Japan.

In his event there is also air pistol, air rifle and skeet with the clay pigeon discipline beginning on Wednesday, where he begins his fifth campaign at the Asaka Shooting-Shotgun Ranges with 28 other competitors hoping to emerge as one of the top six athletes that will progress to the final.

It is quite a fantastic record, especially in an event where eyes and reaction speeds begin to wane with the ageing process. It’s also remarkable because Burnett, had he not narrowly missed out in the 2016 Rio Olympics, would be now competing in his sixth successive Olympic finals.

“I have been in quite good form here but with the whole pandemic, I haven’t been able to travel and compete against some of these guys,” he said.

"But if I can carry my domestic form across, like when I shot 98/100 in Dungannon recently then I will definitely be in the mix."

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times