BUDAORS, Hungary (Reuters) - Diana Igaly’s determination to defend her Olympic skeet shooting title nearly landed her in police custody.
For nearly 30 years, the Hungarian has trained on a shooting range on the edge of a forest near her home town of Budaors.
In 2006, local officials passed new noise regulations, after complaints from residents in the rapidly-sprawling town, and restricted her skeet, or clay-target, practice to two hours a day. No-one told Igaly, however.
As she practiced one day, police arrived and ordered her off the range, threatening to arrest her if she disobeyed.
“I’ve been on this range for 28 years,” Igaly, 43, told Reuters. “And there’s not much else here. There’s no running water or a toilet...but I do sometimes find holes in the ground dug by wild boar.”
With the Beijing Games approaching, Budaors has temporarily relaxed the restrictions on its prominent citizen, allowing Igaly, who became Hungary’s oldest female Olympic champion when she won gold in Athens, to practice for two two-hour sessions each day.
“That’s still not enough but it’s not too bad,” Igaly said. At least I can stop traveling around seeking a shooting range.
“Two years of strife are behind me. It’s been pure anguish...but I hope I’m on track now.
“Now all that matters are the Olympics. I have to forget everything that has gone on.”
Igaly has become one of the country’s most respected athletes due both to her sporting success and her role as a mother, having raised her son, now 22, virtually single-handed.
Despite her achievements, Igaly has had a host of difficulties to deal with. As well as the problems with Budaors, on the outskirts of Budapest, money has been an issue. Though she receives government support as an Olympic champion, funds often arrive late.
The noise ruling forced Igaly to pack up and travel around the country to find practice grounds willing to take her in. She would do morning practice at home then drive off to another venue.
“One thing you can’t do in skeet is mindlessly rush through practice but all that two hours are enough for is rushing, even though practice should actually be a mental exercise,” Igaly said.
The problems made a big impact on Igaly’s form. In last year’s world championships she finished 19th while at the European championships she was 14th.
Nevertheless, Igaly said she was traveling to Beijing in August, her fourth Olympics, for another medal after taking gold in Athens in 2004 and bronze in Sydney in 2000.
“Knowing how strong the competition is, a medal of any color should be (anybody’s) top expectation,” Igaly said. “But my own expectations with myself are tougher, I aim for the top of the medal podium.”
Igaly’s gold in Athens was especially valuable for Hungary, which prides itself on a long history of sporting success, after the country lost three medals, including two golds, at the 2004 Games because of doping scandals.
In Beijing, Hungary expects just six gold medals, which would be its smallest haul since 1976, as the country struggles to finance sport and keep young people interested.
Igaly said her age would be an asset as she had been on the shooting range before some of her rivals were born.
“I’m proud that I can go to the Olympics at 43, and not just go but be the defending champion. I’m proud of my 43 years,” she said.
Though she is concentrating on Beijing, Igaly would not rule out an attempt at the London 2012 Games. She said motherhood had made her tougher.
“Being a mother has given me such an emotional boost,” Igaly said. “When I go home, my child is waiting for me. It doesn’t matter what happened (during the day) because when I go home, he’s waiting for me with a smile.”
Editing by Clare Fallon