The 26-year-old from Chelmsford repaid the faith of those who gave him a second chance at a sporting career.
Coward-Holley had arrived in Japan as one of the favourites but paid the price for a slow start, and missed out on the gold medal play-off by one shot. Czech Jiri Liptak defeated compatriot David Kostelecky in the sudden-death shoot-off.
“Being my first Olympic final, the first bit is always that little bit of tension, that little bit of nerves,” he said.
“But you’ve just got to relax and trust that you can do it. It’s a mix of emotions. I’m a bit lost for words. To come away with a medal, it’s phenomenal.”
His medal was reward for his inspiring fightback from the rugby injuries he suffered as a teenager.
Coward-Holley was a promising prop but suffered two cracked vertebrae and a cracked disc during a training drill.
After 18 months of rehabilitation, he recovered but a bad tackle left him with three cracked vertebrae and three slipped discs — ending his rugby career.
He returned to his first love of shooting, a sport he had previously “done for fun” in his youth. He will get another shot at gold on Saturday alongside Kirsty Hegarty in the mixed team trap event.
Meanwhile, San Marino — population 34,000 — picked up its first ever Olympic medal when Alessandra Perilli won bronze in the women’s trap, at the same time becoming the smallest nation to do so.