Natalie Rooney's friends chime in on Olympic dream

Natalie Rooney with her silver medal
Natalie Rooney with her silver medal

A small south Canterbury town is celebrating after one of its own claimed New Zealand's first medal at the Rio Olympic Games.

Natalie Rooney, 28, from Waimate near Timaru, claimed the silver medal in the women's trap shooting event overnight, only missing out on gold by one point.

Her Olympic dream began as a schoolgirl where, aged just 13, she convinced a teacher at Timaru's Craighead Diocesan School to let her start a team with two friends. The teacher, Vanessa Mulvihill, is still one of her biggest fans.

"She was very determined and she put in hours and hours of practice and had a real passion for it," she says.

"There wouldn't be any shooting at Craighead [without Natalie]. We're one of the few schools that offer shooting to girls. It's all her doing."

Other students have followed in her footsteps, with one girl already competing in world competitions.

The Timaru Gun Club is filled with past trophies engraved with Rooney's name. The walls are a scrapbook of all her achievements, showing a local champion before hitting the world stage.

Former club president Doug King says he knew she had the right stuff early on.

"She was 13 when she started. Right from the word go, I knew she had potential to be a good shooter," he says.

The streets of Timaru were buzzing today with delighted locals, one even claiming the medal proved there was "more to New Zealand than Auckland".

The past president of the New Zealand Clay Target Association, Trevor Manson, knows the 28-year-old well and couldn't be more proud.

"We actually watched it live and we were with her all the way. We've followed her all around the world," he says.

He highlighted how the achievement was unexpected, with few in the media pointing out she was a medal chance.

"For her to come through like that, under the radar, it means even more."