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Mike Dixon still has sights set on Olympic Games – at 47

After nine Olympic Games, and at the age of 47, the flame still burns brightly in the heart of Mike Dixon.

Born in Kingussie, the Nordic skier competed in six Winter Games and carried the Union flag at three opening ceremonies, a record according to Olympic statisticians. And he has commentated on the last two Winter Olympics as well as shooting events in Beijing in 2008.

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He retired from the Army with the rank of sergeant, a British Empire Medal and an MBE before reinventing himself as a commentator for Eurosport after Salt Lake City eight years ago.

Yet, as he prepares for his final commentaries from Vancouver, Dixon reveals: “My Olympic dream is not dead. I am going to try for a place in the national shooting team this summer. Age doesn’t seem a barrier in shooting.”

Indeed, Greenock-born Arthur Clarke was 59 when he won Commonwealth gold in Brisbane, and 67 when he contested his third Games for Scotland, in 1990.

It is London 2012 which tempts Dixon. He shot 585 (out of 600), an international-class smallbore score, at Bisley three years ago, in a one-off competition, with no training. So it might also be foolish to rule out the Delhi Commonwealth Games this autumn.

Alister Allan, the former world smallbore champion and Scotland’s most prolific Commonwealth medallist, helped Dixon during his shooting career, which he greatly appreciated.

A gamekeeper’s son, brought up in a hunting lodge in a remote glen off Loch Linnhe, Dixon was, by his own admission, “an utterly useless shot” as a teenager. Yet he defied the odds and was still an Olympian in his 40th year, the oldest on the World Cup circuit in an event where the exit threshold is around 28.

His father first taught him to shoot. “Ducks mostly. I wounded far more than I killed outright,” he recalled, “though I got them in the end, chasing them in a boat.”

He joined the Army at 17 with no Olympic aspirations. When he first tried Nordic sport, he hit one target out of 10. He couldn’t ski, and Army instructors told him he was too small to be a biathlete.

“I’d never been on skis until I was 19, and I was 5ft 6in. Most Nordic competitors average around 6ft 2in. I was left-handed, and you have to shoot right-handed. He told me to forget it.”

Like generations who had taken the King’s shilling before him, though, Dixon showed the folly of underestimating the thrawn persistence of the Highland soldier.

Within 15 months he was in the cross country ski squad in Sarajevo, the youngest member of the 1984 GB Olympic team. After 29,000 practice rounds, he became a true marksman. At Albertville in 1992 he was one of only three competitors who hit every target. He finished 12th. Britain’s highest Nordic placing of the Vancouver Games thus far is 51st.

Given his resources and what’s available now, current results are embarrassing. Not that Dixon will say so, although he had only one season on lottery support, a modest £2500. Even when he was offered half-price kit from Norwegian suppliers, he was obliged to buy at £1200 from a UK firm. Guns cost £1400. A perk of his job was that ammunition came free, but £200 from his sergeant’s salary went each month towards team expenses. Back home, near Aviemore, he had a wife and two children.

A training snapshot tells how brutal this sport is. Not for biathletes the Alpine poseur-havens like Klosters or Kitzbuehel. Their world lies north of the Arctic Circle where temperatures are routinely more than 20º below. Goggles are not a fashion statement. Without them, your eyes actually freeze over.

So no Christmas-card stuff. He describes the snow as “very aggressive”, and lying gasping in lungfuls of sub-zero air, attempting to slow his trip-hammer pulse. Arms, trembling from thrusting and levering the ski poles, attempting to lock the rifle on to the golf ball-sized targets 50 metres away as they dance in a mist of dripping, stinging, sweat. A flake of snow lands on the sight and he puts his lips close to blow it away – too close, and the frozen gun metal rips the top layer of flesh from his lips.

“The sport pushes you to the absolute physical limit,” he says. “You ski 13 miles, climb around 2400 feet, perhaps to 6000 feet. On the downhills you touch 40mph.

“You ski into the range absolutely knackered: sticks down, rifle off, flick the front snow cover off, open the rear snow cover, out with the old magazine, in with the new, down into position. That’s about 17 to 21 seconds, then shoot your five targets, and be on your way within 35 to 40 seconds.”

He would stay in shape by running in summer, and once finished second in Scotland’s selection event for the World Mountain Racing Championships. He won the Aonach Mor race, and was second in the half Ben Nevis.

Dixon finished 22 years in the service as a ski and rifle instructor, and is now behind the microphone for Eurosport. He does motivational speaking and team-building, notably with Global Energy in Aberdeen. He also arranges corporate event challenges, and works as a personal coach and trainer.

“Commentary generally runs from November through to March,” he said, speaking from Vancouver. “Talking about the sport you love is just fantastic. It’s usually a minimum of three hours each day, longer when there are two races.”

He did not cover the opening ceremony, though. Is this not surprising, given his unique experience of having carried the flag at three of them, 1994, ’98, and 2002? “Well I don’t like to blow my own trumpet,” he says.

It’s also surprising, we venture, that he has no role in Olympic coaching? One suspects one has touched a raw nerve, but 22 years in the service of one’s country breeds loyalty, sometimes beyond what’s deserved. He won’t comment.

It emerges that there was not one civilian youth development biathlon club in Britain, until Dixon changed that. The sport, despite public Treasury funding, effectively remains a military fiefdom.

Now, at Glenmore Lodge, there’s Cairngorm Biathlon and Nordic Ski Club. “The British Biathlon Union didn’t want to know,” says Dixon. “There’s a very good corps of kids, with the potential to develop internationally. I was told if I’d started as a kid, I’d have been Olympic medal potential. Let’s hope these kids from around Kingussie and Aviemore will have that chance.”

They train mainly on roller skis, so they’re revelling in current conditions. A team of four from CBNSC, including two 15-year-olds, finished 15th out of 35 senior Army teams in the British relay championships this year. It was their first biathlon.

Dixon has given up one 10-day commentary assignment – his bread and butter – to take the club to events. “It’s amazing what you can create with a little heartbeat, and enthusiasm,” he says.

Two of his 15-year-old proteges won titles at the British under-21 championships, up against regular Army squaddies. Calum Irvine won the cross country and Scott Dixon the biathlon. Yes, Mike’s son; he will be 19 when the next Winter Olympics are staged in Sochi, younger than dad when he made his Olympic debut.

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