One of the great inventions of the ancient Chinese world was gunpowder.

So it's not a great surprise that the first Olympic champion of the Beijing Games is very likely to be a Chinese shooter.

Du Li is the defending champion in the women's 10m air rifle (yes, I know that you don't need gunpowder to shoot an air rifle).

I'm expecting to see her crowned champion again at around 11am local time (4am UK time) on the first morning of the Games, surrounded by ecstatic local fans.

Du Li in action in April

I went out to the shooting venue in the Shijingshan district on the outskirts of Beijing.

It's actually more like two venues - the Beijing Shooting Range Hall, which hosts the rifle and pistol events, and the Beijing Shooting Range Clay Target Field, which is where the shotgun shooters will do their stuff.

It's a huge complex - and the envy of British Shooting's performance director John Leighton-Dyson.

He's put together a team which includes Sydney Olympic champion Richard Faulds, European champion Steve Scott, double Commonwealth champion Charlotte Kerwood, and world record holder Elena Little.

But they've been called together from all the four corners of the globe.

There's no elite shooting centre in the UK, so all the top Brits end up following their coaches to Italy, Germany, Finland, or even the USA, where rifle shooter Jon Hammond is a coach at the University of West Virginia.

The National Shooting Centre at Bisley doesn't have an indoor facility up to international standards - so winter training there is out.

The GB shooting community had been hoping the 2012 Olympics would give them the chance to build a brand new home for elite shooting - or see Bisley upgraded to a top-class competition venue.

But instead, it'll be held at Woolwich, in a structure which will be taken down after the games - so no long lasting legacy for the sport there.

And then there's the problem of pistols.

Since the Dunblane massacre of 1996, and the Firearms Amendment Act of 1997 which followed, it's been illegal to own a cartridge-fired handgun in the mainland UK. As a result, a whole generation of pistol shooters had to give up the sport or move abroad.

It's a hugely emotive issue, of course.

No-one is suggesting the sacrifice of those people is on anything like the scale of those who lost loved ones at Dunblane.

But Leighton-Dyson says the handgun ban hasn't exactly made the streets safer - and countries where gun crime is far worse than the UK haven't had what he describes as a "knee-jerk reaction" to similar atrocities.

You may have little sympathy with his view.

You may well think it's ludicrous to suggest that introducing more young people to guns is a good idea.

But you get the sense that any British medal success on the shooting range over the next week or so will be in spite of, rather than because of the system.


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