Olympics: Eastham misses surprise shot at glory

The longest shot almost hit the bullseye.

Little-known teenager Robert Eastham threatened to emerge from Olympic Games obscurity before narrowly missing his shooting final today, summing up New Zealand's frustrations early on day seven in Beijing.

One of New Zealand's tallest athletes -- and a team member with one of the lowest profiles -- the 1.95-metre tall, 19-year-old from Balclutha was millimetres from advancing to the medal round of the 50-metre prone rifle after taking aim at the Beijing Shooting Range.

Eastham surprisingly found himself in lofty company after the first 30 shots. His 299 from a possible 300 had him trailing the eventual top qualifier Artur (correct) Ayvazian of the Ukraine and Finn Juha Hirvi by a solitary point.

Unfortunately the junior member of New Zealand's shooting contingent could not sustain his accuracy though he went agonisingly close to featuring in the nine-man final later today.

His final score of 594 from 600 saw him miss a shot at the podium by a point. On countback he placed 14th in the 56-man field -- the outstanding performance by a New Zealand marksman at an otherwise disappointing Games.

Eastham was both elated and disappointed as he contemplated his first Olympic Games experience.

"I shot my best, it's bloody good, but I'm disappointed to be one shot off (the final). It's always frustrating when you don't get a chance at a medal."

Elsewhere, Melissa Ingram and Corney Swanepoel missed their respective finals by swimming's equivalent of the blink of an eye.

Ingram has missed out on a place in the women's 200m backstroke final after placing sixth in her semifinal. She clocked two minutes 09.70 seconds to be the 11th fastest of the 16 semifinalists, but needed to be 0.63sec quicker to qualify for tomorrow's medal race.

Her semifinal was claimed by American Elizabeth Beisel while Kirsty Coventry, who already has three minor medals, was top qualifier in a time 2min 07.76sec.

Swanepoel also dipped out at The Water Cube, missing out on a place in the 100m butterfly final after being the 12th fastest in the semifinals.

He was also sixth in his heat in a time of 52.01 seconds, 0.23sec outside his national record set in heats last night. He would have needed to swim 51.62sec to qualify. Swanepoel's semifinal was won by Milorad Cavic in 50.92sec, pipping American Michael Phelps as the fastest qualifier for the final.

The highly anticipated track and field programme got under way at The Bird's Nest arena this morning with New Zealand's initial involvement limited to heptathlete Rebecca Wardell. She opened her two-day campaign with a season's best time of 14.07secs in the 100m hurdles -- a result that garnered her 968 points and 30th place, 190 points adrift of American leader Hyleas Fountain.

Meanwhile, at the Olympic Basketball Gymnasium the Tall Ferns were outgunned 90-59 by the Czech Republic, a third successive defeat extinguishing their notional hopes of matching the Athens team of 2004 achievement by making the quarterfinals.

New Zealand were never in the hunt despite another inspirational performance from pint-sized guard Angela Marino. She produced 22 points -- thanks to four from five three-pointers -- but had little support against the taller east Europeans.

Aneka Kerr (12) joined her as New Zealand other double-figure contributor, albeit only inside the last 30sec of New Zealand's heaviest defeat in pool play.

The 31-point margin eclipsed the 23-point loss to Spain although a new low is almost guaranteed on Sunday when New Zealand complete their campaign against unbeaten gold medal favourites the United States.