HARARE – The only natural gift that he ever had was robbed in his teens and everything else that followed was born out of sheer determination and hard work.
David Westethout, renowned shottist and 1977 World Combat Pistol Championship winner, still views himself more as a javelin thrower than a shottist despite all his achievements through shooting.
“It’s unbelievable that most people know me as a shooting athlete, but if I’m asked what sport I played, I would say javelin, then hurdling and shooting will probably be the last that I will mention,” Westerhout tells the Daily News this week.
“Some people are born with this great ability in them and for me javelin was one sport that I knew I had a God-given gift. I was gutted however, that I didn’t take it up to senior level because I injured my back but the most painful part is that I was told by the doctor that I would never throw the stick again, which later turned out to be a wrong diagnosis.”
Now in his 70s, Westerhout was born in England and played cricket and rugby at a tender age but javelin became his main area of speciality, dominating the junior rankings in 1954 as a 19-year-old.
After the back injury, Westerhout’s never die attitude saw him venture into hurdling and opted for the longer 400m (440 yards) category.
“I didn’t believe that anything that any man could do would be difficult to emulate and that’s my attitude even to this day. I chose the 400m because I was not afraid of hard work. I wasn’t gifted in this area but love, passion and dedication for sport carried me through,” he says.
“Apparently, this would turn out to be my greatest achievement in my career as a sportsman because I was chosen to represent the Great Britain at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in 1958. Unfortunately I pulled my hamstring and could not finish the race.”
So good was his javelin throwing that a few years after quitting throws and now studying at London University, he was asked to help his team gunner a point and without practice.
“I threw it into the audience, it was amazing,” he says.
Westerhout graduated with an optometry degree in 1959 and found himself in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) the following year to pursue his career. It was here that he took up pistol shooting and immediately rose to fame by winning the World Championships in 1977, held at Cleveland Range in Salisbury, Harare’s old name.
The team finished fourth at the inaugural World Championships in Zurich,, Switzerland. Westerhout finished 11th in his first meet and the following year came fourth in Salzburg, Austria. But overall,
Rhodesia won the championships after beating Norway in the final.
In 1980, he participated at the Moscow Olympics, representing his adopted homeland Zimbabwe.
“It was an unbelievable victory for me and the country; we were such as small nation, lacked experience, had no weaponry and ammunition to topple powerhouses such as West Germany and America but we did,” says Westerhout.
“In Moscow I didn’t perform well largely because we trained only once a week on Saturdays.
In his advanced age, Westerhout still beats the 20-plus competitors on the range.
“The tricky about shooting is that you can practice it for many years but doing the wrong thing, I can teach you how to shoot in 30 minutes and you will be successful so it’s not really about how young or old you are,” he says.
Westerhout is a former Zimbabwe Olympic Committee vice-president and is one of the 10 sportspersons inducted in the Zimbabwean Sports Hall of Fame.
He is a former professor at Houston Texas and a co-author of the standard UK text book on contact lenses.
He currently runs an optometry clinic in Highlands.