October 20 - Europe's leading shooters are gearing up to go for the medals at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC)'s continental Championships that got underway with the Opening Ceremony in Alicante today.
The competition, which is due to begin tomorrow, is set to be stiff with 21 London 2012 medallists and multiple world record holders among the nearly 170 athletes from more than 30 nations vying for podium finishes across the 14 rifle and pistol events in the Spanish city.
Among them is Sweden's 17-time Paralympic champion Jonas Jacobsson, favourite in the SH1 men's 50 metres rifle alongside Israeli Paralympic medallist Shaziri Doron and fellow London 2012 gold medal winner Cédric Fèvre-Chevalier of France.
Britain's Matt Skelhon, a gold medallist at Beijing 2008 who also claimed silver and bronze at London 2012, is another one to watch after he won two of three World Cup events this year, while setting two world records.
"I've spent quite a few months training fairly hard and just being confident that if I can shoot like I shoot in training, then I've got a good chance," he said.
Germany's Athens 2004 gold medallist Manuela Schmermund, who will compete in the SH1 women's 10m air rifle standing, SH1 mixed 50m rifle prone and SH1 women's 50m rifle three positions, is looking for success ahead of next year's IPC World Championships.
"This Championship is important for next year, for the World Championships in Germany so I'll try to give my best and make good competitions," she said.
Meanwhile, Sean Baldwin, Ireland's first Paralympic shooting competitor who made his Games debut in the 10m air rifle standing, 10m air rifle prone, 50m prone and 50m three position events at London 2012, is also aiming for gold as he builds on his experience while preparing for Rio 2016.
He has also competed at two Military Games, three Military World Championships, three Military European Championships and an Orientation World Championships but National Target Shooting Association of Ireland (NTSA) President Liam Crawford said there is still much to expect from the former Irish Defence Forces man.
"Sean is in with a shout of finalling," Crawford said.
"He finished eighth in the 10m air rifle standing at the World Cup event in Stoke Mandeville which was good and his aim this time around would be to final.
"He is improving all the time and has put a lot of work into preparing for the European Championships.
"Hopefully that will show itself this week."
Opening the tournament at the Club Lucentum, Ghislaine Briez, IPC Shooting's Sport Technical Committee chair welcomed the competitors to the event.
"As we look to the future, to the 2014 World Championships and further to Rio 2016, I am delighted that we welcome more athletes at this competition than even at London," she said.
"This shows the huge advancement in the sport of shooting and is a demonstration of the work happening to develop and train more and more elite shooters."
The IPC Shooting European Championships will run through until Friday (October 25), with live results and coverage available on the IPC Shooting Twitter feed and Facebook page.
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