Olympic gold medallist and former world number one clay target shooting champion Russell Mark will fire his final shot professionally at the ISSF World Championships in Spain this week.
Mark’s retirement marks the end of a stellar and decades-long professional career that saw him compete at an incredible six consecutive Olympics.
Growing up in Ballarat, he fired his first shot at the Sebastopol Shooting Range in 1977, and competed at an international level for the first time in 1986.
Now 50 years old, Mark won gold in the double trap event at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics, and gold and bronze medals at Commonwealth Games in 2006 and 2010. He also won two world championships, 37 national titles, and holds the world record for breaking 1,177 targets in a row in a trap competition.
According to an article written by Lily Partland and published on-line by the ABC Ballarat, Mark made his mind up a few weeks ago that it was time to call an end to his career. “I’m counting down the days now to be honest,” Mark says.
He says it would be “unrealistic” to think he could see success at the upcoming Rio Olympics, and says he’d prefer to go out on a high.
“I could probably make the team, but being competitive there is another thing, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t like going to the major events and not being a gold medal contender.
“We’ve got a couple of young guys in the wings, I will help train them, and hopefully Rio will be the start of a long and successful career for them.”
While he still loves the sport, Mark says it’s not longer his primary focus, and he won’t miss the many hours of training that are required to remain competitive.
“I think that’s prompted my decision, I don’t get the enjoyment out of training now that I once did.”
The former Liberal Party candidate says he has no plans to have another shot at politics.
“I didn’t enjoy it. I thought it was very hypocritical having to push some of the Liberal Party policies which I personally didn’t believe in.”
He also plans to step back from shooting, but may take on a couple of junior shooters to train. His focus instead will be on his young family and business interests.
Mark strongly criticised the Australian Sports Commission’s ‘Winning Edge’ policy, which sees most funds going to the top few people in each sport.
“It’s a terrible policy for the broad base of the sport, the people below you in the squad really don’t get much support and I think they need to rethink it.”
He says it’s very expensive to administer, and more money should be put into giving sportspeople the chance to compete overseas, rather than put towards administrative costs.
“If they want to see people win Olympic medals, you must give these people an opportunity to compete overseas at the highest level.”
Mark reflected on his time at the top in 1996, when he and Michael Diamond – both ranked number one in the world – took out gold medals at Atlanta, just months after the Port Arthur Massacre.
“Shooting wasn’t a sport that people thought was politically correct, and when we won those two gold medals, we got a remarkable amount of positive publicity.”
He says he and Diamond did their best to differentiate between people who use firearms for sport from criminals who use them for illegal purposes.
“We had a remarkable chance to rocket our sport way up higher than it probably has ever been on the back of a really terrible incident in Australia’s history.”
Mark says while he will put in “110 percent” at his final world championships, he’s looking forward to moving on from the sport.
“I’m not going there to have a farewell tour, I’m going there to try and increase Australia’s chances or our sport’s chances of getting more funding leading into the Rio Olympics.
“But after that, I couldn’t think of anything worse than the following week having to go back to the range, because in my head I’ve already left.”