Three decades on, Rajmond Debevec still finds joy in pulling the trigger

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On a perfect New Delhi February afternoon, Rajmond Debevec took his last shot of the ISSF World Cup, then lowered his rifle to look at his scoring monitor. Competing in the men's 50m 3 positions event, he has scored 1,165 points. It's nowhere near enough to qualify for the eight-man final -- the final spot went at a score of 1,178. Debevec doesn't show any frustration at his 35th-place finish. As he packs his kit, he is greeted by other competitors. His wrinkled face breaks into a smile and he rubs a hand through his short grey hair even as Japan's Toshikazu Yamashita bows and shakes the other.

It's unlikely the result will make much of a dent on his mammoth career statistics. Had he made the World Cup final, it would have been the 103rd of his career. He has won 27 World Cup gold medals and 40 of other colours, including a bronze at the very first World Cup in Romania in 1986. He has represented two different countries, Yugoslavia and Slovenia, for a total of eight appearances at the Olympics -- winning a gold and two bronze medals. A month away from celebrating his 58th birthday, he's into his 34th season of international shooting and still going strong.

He smiles but disagrees at that assessment. "I'm not going as strong as I would like to be but age has a habit of doing that," he says. "The eyes are not that good and the body doesn't react as quickly." Despite this, he still considers himself lucky to be able to still able to compete at the highest level. "I know there are many young and super-successful shooters and it's hard to compete alongside them, but I still have the passion and love for the sport."

Nothing's clearer in Debevec's mind than the thought that he isn't going to stop shooting anytime soon. The only time he's had serious thoughts about quitting was nearly two decades ago -- on the night of his greatest triumph in fact. Debevec was already a veteran of five Olympics when he won a gold in the 50m prone event at the Sydney Games. "After the celebrations, I asked myself if I would still have the same motivation," he says. It didn't take very long for him to get his answer. "I quickly realized that in terms of my passion for the sport nothing had changed."

Something else had though. "The Olympic gold freed me," he says. "My dreams had already come true with that gold. Ever since then, I've enjoyed my time as a shooter even more. I'm more relaxed now. I'm not so tense when I travel to competitions. My two children have left home now, so it's even easier for me to concentrate on shooting."

The sport gives him purpose. "I'm a very meticulous person and shooting fulfills my personality," he says. "It's magic for me. I enjoy the fact that if I do everything perfectly, I can get a perfect score. Yet at the same time I have to make 1,200 shots perfectly, which is nearly impossible. But I keep chasing that perfection. That's still a lot of fun."

He also likes the fact that he can still shoot with athletes far younger than him. "A lot of the younger shooters are a little too respectful of me but I like competing with them," he says. "I like being surrounded by young and successful shooters. If I don't see myself in the mirror, I also feel young."

It isn't all fun though. Ambition still burns in his heart and Debevec still likes winning. While he failed to win a medal in New Delhi, he sees his scores improving as the season progresses. By the time of the European Championships, he hopes to attain his target: a quota that would see him qualifying for a record-equalling ninth Olympic Games.

You shouldn't count him out just yet. He's still capable of surprising the field as he did by winning a World Championship gold in the 300m rifle prone event at Changwon, South Korea last year. Debevec said he knew he had a chance when he noticed the conditions he was shooting in. "It was very cloudy and windy," he says. "Because the bullet travels a longer distance in the 300m event, the weather effects are stronger. When the conditions are good, then it's just technique that matters. But when the conditions are hard, when it's windy and the light is changing, you need to find the right tactic to perform well. I'm full of these type of experiences. The younger shooters don't really have that knowledge. So I smiled when I saw that the conditions were poor. Because I knew I could still show these young shooters something."