By Tom Pilcher
LONDON (Reuters) - Disappointment in the deserts of South America has turned to Olympic delight on the shooting range for Qatar's 2011 Dakar Rally winner and eagle-eyed marksman Nasser Al-Attiyah.
For had he not failed to defend his Dakar title last month, the 41-year-old rally driver would not now be contemplating his fifth successive Games.
That retirement -- between Antofagasta and Iquique in Chile -- from one of the most grueling and dangerous events in motorsport allowed him to dash home and compete in the Asian shooting championships where he equaled the clay pigeon world record with a maximum 150 points from 150.
In a telephone interview with Reuters from Sweden, where this month he made his world rally championship debut in snow and ice for champions Citroen, Al-Attiyah said he was a very lucky athlete.
"No, no, no, no, no. My dreams will be over and not compete in Olympic Games," the Qatari responded in halting English when asked whether, had he been leading the Dakar Rally, he might still have retired to ensure Olympic qualification.
"The situation was really not good in Dakar. It was a big mess. So I decided to stop on day nine. If I was not in Qatar on January 13 then I would have missed the Asian Shooting Championships.
"Sometimes you have to lose something to win another thing. It was my only way to compete in the Olympics. I was so lucky to have the last moment."
Al-Attiyah shot his way to the skeet gold medal and earned the right to compete in another Olympics having finished 15th in Atlanta's 1996 games, sixth in Sydney four years later, fourth in Athens in 2004 and 15th in Beijing at the last edition.
"I felt inside so well prepared. Maybe the reason I made the record was because I retired from Dakar and I wanted to make people forget that," he said, laughing gently.
The softly-spoken Qatari followed three others - Vincent Hancock of the U.S., Norwegian Tore Brovold and Jan Sychra of the Czech Republic - in etching his name in the record books, having achieved his perfect mark for the first time in 20 years of competitive shooting.
"I had a good teacher, it was my father. He taught me a lot you know," chuckled Al-Attiyah, recalling the days when he went hunting in Scotland, Lebanon and Cyprus to sharpen his skills.
"He put me under pressure to make good results."
Al-Attiyah's father also provided a helping hand into the world of motorsport, with the Qatari now competing in the same world rally series that former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen has just left.
"We don't have any family in racing but he was a good support."
Having started out in rallying, Al-Attiyah feels he would not be the driver he is without his passion and evident talent for shooting.
"I love these two sports. Before I came to shooting I was in rallying and I said I have to have another sport to make my schedule relaxing."
The Qatari counts his finest sporting achievements as his 2011 Dakar win and his world-record-equaling shooting feat, and after hitting such heights last month he cannot wait for a fifth tilt at Olympic glory.
"After the new world record I feel more excited," he said, laughing down the phone.
"I have received a lot of emails and messages, also from Europe actually, so maybe a lot of people will come during the event. Even you, if you like I can get you some tickets."
Despite his hectic schedule, in two months' time Al-Attiyah plans to visit the Royal Artillery Barracks in south-east London, venue for the Olympic shooting events from July 28 to August 6.
With the Rally of Finland scheduled during that time Al-Attiyah will miss another championship event, having skipped the season-opener in Monte Carlo due to his Dakar commitments.
At the start of next year the hardy Qatari plans to be back at the treacherous Dakar Rally, which has claimed the lives of more than 20 competitors since the first event in 1979.
"Dakar is Dakar. Everybody knows it's really hard and tough. Everybody gets tired. For me it was very important to turn up this year and compete. It's not good if the winner doesn't start," he said.
"I am applying for next year. I hope to win again."
(Editing by Ossian Shine)