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Meet Canada's 79-year-old Commonwealth Games rookie

There are quite a few rookies at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, but none quite like Bob Pitcairn. The Canadian fullbore shooter is making his Games debut at the age of 79, and on Monday he officially became the oldest participant to ever compete at a Commonwealth Games.

Shooter Bob Pitcairn becomes oldest participant ever

Canadian shooter Bob Pitcairn is nearly as old as the Commonwealth Games themselves. He was born eight years after the inaugural event, then known as the British Empire Games. (Tertius Pickard/Associated Press)

BRISBANE, Australia — There are quite a few rookies at the Commonwealth Games here in Australia, but none of them are quite like Bob Pitcairn.

The Canadian fullbore shooter is making his Games debut at the age of 79, and on Monday he officially became the oldest participant to ever compete at a Commonwealth Games.

At 79 years and nine months, the Chilliwack, B.C., resident topped the record held by Doreen Flanders of England, who participated in lawn bowls at Glasgow 2014 a few weeks after her 79th birthday.

"I feel honoured to set the new age record and grateful that my health and athleticism made it possible for me to be competitive in the Gold Coast Games," Pitcairn says.

For some perspective, Pitcairn was born on Prince Edward Island eight years after the very first Commonwealth Games — then known as the British Empire Games — which were held in Hamilton, Ont., in 1930. Now he's enjoying everything the event has to offer a 79-year-old rookie.

But it's not the first time Pitcairn has been in Brisbane on shooting business — he and his son Donald were here to compete in the World Long Range Rifle Championships in 2015.

The 'pinnacle' of his career

Pitcairn began fullbore shooting in 1960, but wasn't able to be a serious contender for the Commonwealth Games until retiring in 1998.

After missing out on a spot for the Manchester Games in 2002, he set his sights on training for Gold Coast 2018. At the last national trials competition, a flawless performance earned him one of the two Canadian entries.

"I've had many successes in international shooting over the years but I consider qualifying for the Canadian fullbore team at Gold Coast 2018 the pinnacle of my long shooting career," Pitcairn says.

Those successes include winning more than 180 first-prize or championship awards in local, provincial, national and international competition, plus induction in both the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association Hall of Fame, and the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame.

Pitcairn began competition in these Games at the Belmont Shooting Centre in Brisbane in the pairs event on Monday, with another Games rookie in Nicole Rossignol.

Rossignol, the only woman to compete at these Games in the pairs and individual fullbore events, credits Pitcairn with helping her prepare for competition.

"I have received a lot of technical support and the sharing of Bob's experience," Rossignol says. "I'm very thankful to have him as my teammate."

The duo sit ninth in the 16-team field after the first day of competition in the Queen's Prize pairs event, which continues on Tuesday.

Sky-high drama

Pitcairn, who was a commercial pilot before retiring in 1998, likely holds another (albeit unofficial) Games record as the only competitor to foil a hijacking.

On Nov. 29, 1974, Pitcairn was piloting a 737 plane with 120 passengers aboard, which took off from Montreal with planned stops in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton.

A passenger held a knife to a member of the crew, demanding to be transported to Cyprus.

Pitcairn calmed the hijacker and told him they would need to refuel the plane in Saskatoon before taking him to his demanded destination.

The pilot returned to the cockpit and radioed ahead, telling authorities to meet the aircraft when it landed in Saskatoon.

Before they landed, the hijacker decided to give himself up, and Pitcairn accompanied him onto the tarmac where RCMP officers swooped in to make the arrest.

The incident didn't deter Pitcairn from flying again — his last flight as a commercial pilot was in May of 1998 from Hong Kong to Vancouver.

Now he's also looking to add one more record as he wants to be the oldest medal winner at a Commonwealth Games, and he'll have another chance when the individual event begins on Wednesday.

"My goal is to stand on the podium," Pitcairn says. "I trained hard, I'm aiming for that, and I am going to get [there]."

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