Wednesday, 14 November 2012

David Ian Westerhout

 DAVE WESTERHOUT has long been noted as a perfectionist. As an academic at university he was twice awarded marks of 100 per cent for examination papers on the physiology of vision. And as a sportsman he has always possessed the temperament and quality of a champion, representing Britain in the 1958 Commonwealth Games as a 440 yards hurdler.

 It was thus not surprising that a man of such calibre should ultimately distinguish himself as a world champion. But it was remarkable that Dave Westerhout should gain acclaim as world champion for sanctions-hit Rhodesia in combat pistol shooting — a sport in which shooters in this country did not have the weaponry, ammunition nor experience to consider themselves the equal of major nations like America and West Germany.

 However, the threat posed by Rhodesia's small band of dedicated combat pistol men to the cream of the world's marksmen was evident from the inaugural world championships at Zurich, Switzerland, in 1975. Rhodesia finished third in the team event, with Lionel Smith third in the individual championship, and Westerhout, a relative newcomer to the sport, a creditable eleventh.

 The 1976 world championships were staged at Salzburg, Austria, where Smith was again third, with Westerhout improving to fourth place. But the team event was won by Rhodesia, who beat Norway by a mere 29 points in an exhilarating competition, with the 'big guns' of America trailing in third place, 185 points behind.

 The Americans had been practising this type of shooting for twenty years and up to that time had been undisputed kings. Thus it was incredible that a small nation like Rhodesia should outpoint them and take over as world leaders. The Rhodesians who became the world champion team were, Westerhout (captain), Lionel Smith, Peter Maunder, Alex du Plessis and Dave Arnold, all from Salisbury.

 This set the scene for an intriguing 1977 world championship at the Cleveland Range at Salisbury, with the sharp-shooting Americans determined to regain their pride and exact revenge for their Salzburg defeat.

 Westerhout was Rhodesian captain for the third successive year. He could take the major credit for persuading the shooting nations of the world to stage the championships in strife-torn Rhodesia — still in the throes of a bush war.

 The charismatic Westerhout paying his own way, represented Rhodesia at the meeting of the International Practical Shooting Confederation in America where it was unanimously agreed to stage the event at Salisbury in August 1977, after he had lobbied extensively for a week. That decision in itself was a notable triumph for Rhodesia and for Westerhout.

 Feverish work at Cleveland over many months prepared the range to international standard, commerce and industry readily coming to the aid of the enterprising pistol men.

 The indefatigable Westerhout was not content to sit back and shoot He took full charge as chairman of the organising committee, a position entailing a heavy workload which inevitably cut deeply into his preparation time for the actual competition.

 Teams arrived from Rhodesia, America, Australia, South Africa, West Germany, Norway, Belgium, Britain and Switzerland. The Americans included the redoubtable Ray Chapman, world champion in 1975 and runner-up in 1976 to Norwegian Jan Foss.

 But it was the supremely fit and athletic Dave Westerhout who took the lead from the outset and became world champion in grand style — finishing 116 points ahead of runner-up Peter Maunder, another Rhodesian, and 158 clear of the third-placed Raoul Walters of America. Thus these world championships really belonged to Westerhout in many ways, climaxed by him gaining the tag 'world champion'. He had the top score of all eighty-six competitors in four of the varied shoots and was always among the leaders.

 For the second successive year, the Rhodesians won the team championship, this time with Westerhout Lionel Smith, Alex du Plessis, Andy Langley and Peter Boniface. The team was chosen after a series of intensive trials, but twelve others were selected to participate as individuals. One of these was Peter Maunder, who was ranked only fifteenth in Rhodesia at the start of the championships but proved to have been underrated by outshooting all but Westerhout

 There were never many points separating Rhodesia and America in the fight for the team championship and the lead was traded throughout The results had finally to be calculated by computer and it was not until some time after the shooting was over that Rhodesia were declared the winners.

 It was Westerhout's class under white-hot pressure that pulled Rhodesia to the front and edged out the Americans. After the 'jungle lane' shoot, Rhodesia had closed the gap on the leading Americans, but they moved ahead with sensational shooting in the 'house clearing' and 'vehicle' shoots.

 In the 'house clearing', Rhodesia were trying to match an excellent shoot by the Americans and were under further pressure after a penalty of ten points imposed for an accidental discharge.

 It was left to the last two shooters, Smith and Westerhout, to keep Rhodesia in touch. A tense home crowd of about 200 watched Smith score a possible 250 with the best time of the shoot (50,4 sec.). It was a difficult challenge for Westerhout, but he was equal to it and also scored a maximum 250, but clipped 2,3 seconds from Smith's time.

 Rhodesia were now just a fraction behind in the team race, but were to surge ahead on the 'vehicle shoot, where Westerhout s time was half that of many other competitors, though he still managed a score of 216 out of 220 to give him by far the best hit factor and total.

 For his achievement, Westerhout was honoured as the Rhodesian Sportsman of the Year for 1977 and was awarded the John Hopley Memorial Trophy. It was a fitting tribute to a remarkable personality.

 David Ian Westerhout was born in England on 20 May 1936 and educated at Bancroft's School, Essex and London University. After qualifying as an optician he practised for a year in Britain before emigrating to Rhodesia in 1959, where he began to specialise in contact lens fitting. By the late 1970s he had an international reputation in this field and was being invited to undertake lecture tours of America, England, Germany, South Africa and New Zealand.

 He married a Rhodesian girl, Isobelle Whittle-Herbert, in 1964. They returned to England in 1967, where Westerhout was elected president of the Contact Lens Society in 1970. The Westerhouts returned to Rhodesia in 1971. He shared with Dr. John Hanks the 1974 Zimbabwe Award which honours outstanding young people in this country.

 He played first-league rugby and cricket at Salisbury and in 1960 and 1961 was selected to represent Rhodesia on the track, where he set a national record for the 220 yards hurdles and was awarded his colours. He is interested in game and veld conservation and is an honorary game officer of the Department of National Parks and Wild Life Management.

 But it was as a combat pistol marksman that he brought to Rhodesia a rare world individual championship, and spearheaded the team's victory at two successive championships. These were achieved despite the severe handicap of using inferior weapons. At the 1976 championships in Austria, for instance, Westerhout, Maunder and Arnold were forced to share one pistol. They started with two, but the night before the championship, the sight broke off one weapon and all three had to share the other.

 In international practical pistol shooting, the Americans, with plenty of money and unrestricted ammunition and practice, reckon on two guns to a man. To share would be anathema to them. Because of serious shortages of modern guns and ammunition, the Rhodesians cast their own bullet heads and used recharged cartridge cases. Clearly, under such handicaps, they could not waste precious ammunition on the endless hours of practice which are normally necessary to be able to compete at world championship level.

 In early 1980 Westerhout switched styles to Olympic rapid fire pistol and in just six months won a place in Zimbabwe's hastily assembled Olympic team for Moscow. But the two styles are about as different as squash from tennis, and he did not have the experience to be competitive at Moscow. His new Hammerli pistol broke on arrival and he could not practise for a week. This demolished his confidence to the extent that he finished 38th out of 40 with a score of 529. A second Zimbabwean, Bulawayo's Ian Redmond, was joint 33rd with 576. The winner, Ion Corneliu of Romania shot 596, but like all the eastern bloc competitors was ultra-professional in terms of time and ammunition expended in practice.

 In the Olympic free pistol, Salisbury's Maureen Reichert was the only woman among a field of 33. She finished 28th on 524, with Redmond 27th on 527. Winner was the Soviet Union's Aleksandr Melentev with a new world record of 581.

 Another Zimbabwe competitor was Salisbury's Dennis Hardman, who in the prone rifle was joint 25th out of 56 with a score of 592 — a highly satisfactory result.

 Hungary's Karoly Varga won the Gold Medal by equalling the world record of 599. In three positional rifle, Hardman suffered badly from nerves and lapsed to 30th out of 39 shooters with a tally of 1117. Russia's Viktor Vlasov was the winner with the world record of 1173.

Salzburg, Austria 1976: Team placings— 1, Rhodesia (1 763 pts.);2, Norway (1 734); 3, America (1 578); 4, South Africa (1 566); 5, West Germany (1562); 6, Austria (1 533). Individual placings — 1, J. Foss (Norway); 2, R. Chapman (U.S.); 3, L. Smith (Rhodesia); 4, Westerhout (Rhodesia). Other Rhodesians: P. Maunder (8), D. Arnold (11), A. du Plessis (29).



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At 18 November 2012 at 10:06 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Tony Smith (RhAF) Writes:-

I was a member of the Cleveland Pistol Club and shot with Dave Westerhout. Ken Salter and "Beef" Belstead (KIA) were also members of the club and both were good shots.

At 1 August 2017 at 15:17 , Blogger The Grey Ghost said...

Sorry guys, the 1976 Combat Pistol Championship was not held in Salzburg, it was held in Berndorf.

At 28 March 2018 at 10:46 , Blogger Alison GF said...

Where is Dave now? He was a brilliant eye specialist and saved my eyesight in the 80’s. I would love to send my regards.


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