Peter Tait Australia’s only Sydney 2000 Paralympic medallist

By Greg Campbell

Australia’s Shooting Team arrived at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games fielding its largest ever squad of 11 athletes and with high hopes to press for medal honours.

Four athletes, Libby Kosmala, Ashley Adams, James Nomarhas and Peter Worsley, were backing up after the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games where Nomarhas secured the team’s sole medal, a silver in the Mixed Sports Pistol SH1 event.

But it was Games debutant, Peter Tait from Ballarat, who upstaged his team-mates to win Australia’s only Shooting medal when capturing silver in the Mixed Sports Pistol SH1 final.

Tait, a left arm amputee and a member of Ballarat Pistol Club, enjoyed a strong reputation as one of the districts best pistol athletes.

He was also in eye-catching form in the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.

At the 1998 IPC World Shooting Championships in Spain, Tait finished 11th in the Sports Pistol, 17th in the Men’s Air Pistol, and 30th in the Free Pistol event.

But together with Nomarhas and Steven Guy, they snared the gold medal in the Teams Sports Pistol.

At the 1999 FESPIC Games in Beijing, Tait won the silver medal with team members Guy and Simon McGrath in Team Air Pistol Men SH1 event and was placed sixth in the Air Pistol Men SH1.

His build-up to the Sydney Paralympics continued at the 1999 Deutsche Meistereschaft Sportschiessen in Munich where he won the gold medal in Sport Pistol, finished ninth in Free Pistol and 10th in Air Pistol.

Then at the 1999 Oceania Championships at the Sydney International Shooting Centre, Tait won the silver medal in Sport Pistol, was placed seventh in Air Pistol and 14th in Free Pistol.

At the Sydney Paralympics, Tait maintained his impressive form when qualifying second for the final after registering a score of 568 to upstage his team-mates Nomarhas (557 points, 10th) and Jeff Lane (555 points, 11th).

China’s Wei Huang dominated qualification with a score of 573 and was a raging gold medal favourite.

And Huang didn’t disappoint in the final securing the gold medal with 669.6 while Tait and Russia’s Andrey Lebedinsky, the defending Paralympic gold medallist from the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, tussled for the minor medals.

With home crowd support, Tait (664.7 points) held his nerve and prevailed over Lebedinsky (664.4) to snare the silver medal by a mere 0.3 points.

In addition to having his name etched into Australian Paralympic history, Tait’s medal winning performance was hailed when he was one of five Paralympians to be honoured in a new monument dedicated to Ballarat Paralympians which was unveiled at Lake Wendouree in 2018.

Apart from Tait, the Paralympic Walk recognised Ballarat Paralympic locals, wheelchair racer Greg Smith, wheelchair rugby player Brad Dubberley, wheelchair basketballer Sandy Blyth and vision-impaired field athlete Jodi Willis-Roberts.

 

 


Libby Kosmala: A champion and a legend

By Greg Campbell

Too often Australian athletes are tagged as legends when their performances do not warrant such high acclaim.

But when it comes to Australian Paralympic target rifle athlete, Libby Kosmala, her legend status is not only accurate, but also highly deserved when you consider her outstanding record, her sporting longevity, her contribution to target Shooting and to the Paralympic movement, plus her role in the advancement of people with a disability.

Kosmala attended a phenomenal 12 consecutive summer Paralympic Games from 1972 through to the 2016 Rio Games, winning a total of 13 medals, nine of which were gold.

At her first Paralympic Games in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1972, Kosmala competed in both track and field and swimming, winning a bronze medal in the pool in the 3x50m medley relay, before taking up Shooting and qualifying for the 1976 Paralympic Games in Toronto, Canada.

With an air rifle in hand, she won her nine gold medals at four consecutive Paralympic Games between 1976 and 1988.

By comparison, Dawn Fraser (women’s 100m freestyle), Andrew Hoy (equestrian) and Rechelle Hawkes (women’s hockey) are the only Australians to have won gold medals at three successive Olympic Games.

While Kosmala has laid down her rifle from international competition, she is still competing locally in Adelaide and has now turned her attention to coaching.

Kosmala knew after the Rio Paralympics, where she didn’t qualify for a final for the first time in her long Paralympic career, that it was finally time to retire from the international scene, but she only made her decision publicly official in recent months.

“I didn’t shoot well (in Rio), and I didn’t know why. I was really on top of the tree before I went to Rio. I thought this must be the end. I must not represent Australia again. Not ever again!” said Kosmala.

“Even the coach (Miroslav Sipek) agreed with me after I finished that shoot. He said, ‘Libby I think you’ve done your bit’ and I said ‘I have. I can’t do it again. This is it’.

“He agreed whereas on other occasions when I thought I should retire, the coach kept coming back to me saying ‘no, no, no, you’ve got more in you. I know you can do it again’. I was pleased in a way that he was happy that I wanted to finish,” she added.

“I kept shooting when I came home. I still really enjoy it.”

Kosmala, aged 78, re-affirm her intention to retire when she was approached by Sydney 2000 Olympian, Carrie Quigley, to re-direct her rifle experience into coaching, including youngsters taking up the sport for the first time.

“I got the offer from Carrie Quigley and she said, ‘Libby, I think it’s time you come into coaching. How about doing a coaching course’? And I’m really enjoying that. It’s really cemented my life now,” said Kosmala.

“It’s rewarding, and the kids listen to me. And they are all about my height when I’m sitting in a chair,” she added with a laugh.

While all Paralympic Games were memorable for Kosmala, the 1988 and 2000 Paralympic Games hold special family memories, while she had the distinctive honour of carrying the Australian flag at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony.

At the 1988 Seoul Paralympics, her husband Stan also captured a lawn bowls gold medal to add to her three rifle golds and a silver medal.

Then at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, Stan also won selection in the Australian rifle squad and competed against Libby in the Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH1 classification.

Additionally, her youngest son James, now an Adelaide paramedic, worked as a volunteer at the Games.

Kosmala became a wheelchair user because of spinal complications at birth and did not participate in sport until after she left school.

She had not fired a rifle until she was invited to attend a rifle club when she served as secretary of the Wheelchair Sports Association of South Australia. There, she scored a bulls-eye with her first shot and her life then took off in a hugely rewarding direction.

With her Paralympic rifle career scaling the heights, Kosmala also received long-term support from the South Australian Sports Institute (SASI) which contributed to her overseas travel for competition and for equipment upgrades.

“I was one of the first disabled athletes to receive funding. They (SASI) were very generous,” said Kosmala.

An enthusiastic swimmer, Kosmala maintain her swimming throughout her Shooting career and says it was a key part of her continued fitness regime which contributed to her decades of success.

“You have to be fit enough to cope with all sorts of weather and all sorts of temperatures and all sorts of competitions. For example, in 1988 in Seoul, we were shooting in a tin shed and it was extremely hot,” she recalled.

Her exposure to international competitions in Europe and in North America opened her eyes to the changes required for wheelchair users.

“When I came back to Australia, I knew we needed to push the wheelchair manufacturers. We saw athletes who were welders and engineers building their own chairs which were made to fit and made to measure,” she said.

Outside her rifle career, Kosmala became an active advocate for wheelchair accessibility.

After receiving a host of fines for exceeding parking time limits, Kosmala decided to take the City of Adelaide to court after her pleas for exemptions fell on deaf ears.

“They didn’t want to listen. They didn’t want to speak with me,” she said.

“My father was a lawyer and he thought it was a very good move to approach the Council and get Council to give us parking permits. Father said, let’s not pay the fine, that may bring Council to the party,” she added.

Kosmala won the court case and disability parking access and disability parking stickers are now in place Australia-wide.

Prior to the Sydney Paralympic Games in 2000, Kosmala travelled to the Sydney International Shooting Centre at Cecil Park, in western Sydney, with her son James and was alarmed at the lack of wheelchair accessibility at train stations.

“Luckily, I had my son with me because I could not have managed. There were no lifts in train stations. It was disastrous. I wrote to the  (NSW) Transport Minister and said how terribly worried I was. We got results and got things happening,” she said.

“The Sydney Games set a standard for other Games to follow. They were a fantastic Games, a wonderful Games. London 2012 was very close, and I loved the Beijing village,” she said.

Apart from the competition success of the Sydney Paralympics, Kosmala said the impact of the Games were far reaching.

“I think things have improved (for wheelchair users) Australia wide because of the Sydney Games in transport alone. There have been big differences and fantastic changes,” she said.

Kosmala has been at the core of change – both on and off the rifle range – and her legacy will forever remain.


Driven to succeed

By Greg Campbell

It’s been 24 years since Deserie Baynes became the second Australian woman to capture an Olympic Shooting medal when placed third in the inaugural Women’s Double Trap event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

But it was a medal Baynes, then competing as Deserie Huddlestone, was fortunate to earn.

The shooting range was located at Wolf Creek, 30 kilometres outside Atlanta, and the Organising Committee was having issues with volunteer interstate athlete bus drivers who were unfamiliar with the bus routes from the Athletes Village to several competition venues.

On the day of the Women’s Double Trap competition, where qualifying events commenced at 9am, Baynes jumped onto a bus for the normal 45-minute journey where she sat in the front seat beside gold medal favourite, USA’s Kimberley Rhode.

“We were minding our own business and travelling along, and the bus driver turned around and she said, ‘I’ve never been to the shooting range before. Does anyone know how to get there?’” recalled Baynes.

“We ended up guiding the bus driver to the shooting range. It interrupted our pre preparation. It was an unusual start to the competition,” she added.

Baynes’ day of drama didn’t begin and end with the bus trip.

She arrived at the Games as a rank outside chance of a podium finish having never won an international medal apart from the Oceania Championships.

“I was a long shot, a long shot. Up until Atlanta, I hadn’t secured a medal. I can remember it being so, so hot and humid. I had given up everything and it was a case of nothing to lose,” Baynes said.

Despite the unnerving bus journey, Baynes managed to register the equal sixth best qualifying score of 103, along with three other competitors, including her Australian team-mate, Anne Maree Roberts.

The quartet then had the endure a shoot-off to see who would claim the sixth and last place in the final to be conducted later in the afternoon.

Baynes held her nerve and ultimately pipped Roberts 8-7 after Italy’s Giovanna Pasello and China’s E Gao, were eliminated earlier in the shoot-off.

“The shoot-off seemed to go for an eternity,” she remembered.

With her place in the final secured, Baynes then had to regather her focus for the medal decider.

“One of my team-mates came up to me and he said, ‘that’s only half of it’. You have only just qualified. Now the real Games start,” she said.

In the final, Baynes was the best performing shooter with a score of 36 targets – three ahead of the gold medallist, Rhode. But Rhode entered the final with a five target lead from her carry-over qualifying score.

Baynes was tied with Germany’s Susanne Kiermayer at the end of the final, and the pair then had to shoot-off for the silver medal, which Kiermayer won 2-1.

Despite competing across the world in the years prior to the Atlanta Games, Baynes shot behind Rhode in the finals order and had never previously experienced such a loud partisan crowd which she had to face in Atlanta.

“They were so noisy when Kimberley shot. I had to think, do I wait for them to be quiet? But that would throw my timing out,” said Baynes.

“So, I decided to use their noise and encouragement as my momentum. I capitalised on it. Instead of waiting for my time to come, I’d use their noise and excitement to help lift me as well.”

She regards her bronze medal as her career highlight saying; “It so very special for all the sacrifices my family and everyone put in to get me there.”

After the Atlanta Olympics, she re-married and gave birth to son Billy in 1998 in the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

The Sydney Olympics saw the introduction of Women’s Trap for the first time, and Baynes earned selection for both Women’s Double Trap and Trap events.

“My first love was always Trap,” said Baynes. “I had a love-hate relationship with Double Trap. I found it to be the most frustrating, demoralising sport that they could possibly have invented.

“You either had a really, really good day, or you had a really, really bad day. There was nothing in between.”

Despite some impressive results, including gold, silver and bronze medals on the international circuit in the years leading into Sydney 2000, medical issues greatly affected her in the final months prior to the Games and she finished 12th in both the Trap and Double Trap competitions.

“It (her results) was very disappointing. I was quite ill for the Sydney Olympics. In hindsight, should have I pulled out of the team? But how do you withdraw from an Olympic team?” she asked.

Despite the frustrations of the Sydney Olympics, Baynes ultimately enjoyed the thrill of capturing a gold medal at a home Games when winning the Women’s Trap Pairs when partnering with 2004 Athens Olympic Games Women’s Trap gold medallist, Suzy Balogh, at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

“It highlighted the uniqueness about the sport of clay target Shooting because the medals were 10 years apart. It highlighted the fact that age is no barrier to being able to perform at a peak level,” said Baynes.

Apart from her gold medal, Baynes holds fond memories of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games saying, “They were a fun Games. Even though it’s an international competition, they are more of a friendly Games compared to the Olympics.”

While she has closed the chapter on her international career which began as a 10-year old when introduced to the sport by her father, coach and mentor, Gordon Wakefield in Mildura, Baynes remains actively involved in Shooting and still competes at Port Augusta Gun Club, where her husband Steven – himself a former Australian Double Trap representative – is Club President.

And she is still a fine shot.

Last year, Baynes set a new women’s long break record of 682.

In addition to competing, Baynes has devoted many years to the administration of the sport. She served as Secretary of the South Australian Clay Target Association between 2007-15 and is currently its Public Officer and a Rules Committee Member.

Last year, she was appointed to the Board of Shooting Australia, and her contribution to the sport     was recognised when inducted into the Northern Mallee Sports Hall of Fame in northern Victoria.

“I appreciate what the sport has given me and I sort of felt that I could perhaps give back to a sport that has given me so much and try and ensure and guarantee the momentum stays there and give other up and coming young shooters the opportunity,” she said.

 

 


Sydney 2000 Olympic medal memories stir Annemarie’s ambitions

By Greg Campbell

Twenty years after Annemarie Forder’s shock women’s 10m Air Pistol bronze medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, her memories remain vivid and the emotions quickly come swirling back.

On the day Michael Diamond cemented his place as one of the greatest ever men’s trap athletes with a second successive Olympic gold medal, Forder secured her own slice of history when becoming Australia’s youngest ever Olympic Shooting medallist and Australia’s second Pistol medallist after Patti Dench first climbed onto the podium at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

At just 22 years of age at the time, Forder was already an Olympian after winning a wild card entry to the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games where she finished a credible 23rd on debut alongside her Pistol team-mates Annette Woodward and Carol Tomcala.

“To get selected was a huge surprise and a huge honour,” said Forder.

Her Sydney 2000 medal winning performance was viewed by many as a pleasant shock, but to those in the Australian Shooting community, it was within her reach.

Forder arrived at the Sydney Games having captured two gold medals in the individual 10m Air Pistol and 10m Air Pistol Teams event at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games.

And she was also the 1998 World Junior 10m Air Pistol silver medallist behind Viktoria Chaika from Belarus when she thought the gold medal was within her grasp.

Her silver medal winning performance was even more meritorious as two days prior to the World Junior Championship, Forder tripped and fell, gashing a knee and grazing her hands.

“As awesome as that was to get a silver medal at a World Championship, it was also very disappointing at the same time. I wanted to be the junior World Champion. It was brutal at the time. It hurt a lot,” she said.

“Having been so close is one of those things which makes you a better athlete. You turn those disappointments into accomplishments down the track,” she added.

While she was rising quickly through the world Pistol ranks, her path to the Sydney Olympics was rocky with more accident-ridden pot-holes along the way.

She fractured an ankle and broke a hand in 1999 before jamming a hand in a car door six months prior to the Games.

Three weeks before the Games began, she was involved in a car accident on the Gold Coast, when a passenger, which missed a turn and slammed into a telegraph pole.

Then her loving grandmother Norma Boyanton passed away five days before the Games, delaying her arrival into the Athletes Village until late on the eve of the Opening Ceremony.

Team management concluded Forder needed a psychological and emotional boost before competing two days after Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic Cauldron and allowed her to march in the Opening Ceremony instead of resting ahead of her event.

“My big goal was to get into the final. I knew that I could make the final if I shot well,” said Forder.

In the qualifying round, Forder qualified in fifth place for the final after registering a score of 385 – five points behind China’s Tao Luna, who equalled the Olympic record with a tally of 390.

“I was excited and quietly confident. I’ve always shot good finals and I was really confident in my ability to do that. Obviously, the nerves were there,” she said.

“I went and had a quick chat with Michael (Diamond) and Russell (Mark) came into the team room and they said ‘look mate, you know what you are doing. You got yourself here, just go out and enjoy it’”, she recalled.

In the final, Forder borrowed a hat to hide the glare of the bright television spotlights and began with a nervous low-scoring first shot. But she quickly found her rhythm and peeled off four successive scores in the tens before a score in the low eights rocked her momentum.

With two shots remaining, Forder sat in sixth position and turned to the crowd and urged them to find their voices and cheer her home. Not only did the crowd respond, but so too did Forder, and she used the crowd’s energy and fired final shots of 10.4 and 10.5 to climb into the bronze medal position.

The Russian world record holder, Svetlana Smirnova, needed a score of 9.6 or better with her final shot to deny Forder third place, but could only manage a 9.2.

“I was just in shock. I put my gun down and took my glasses off. Then I turned around and looked up to the grandstand and everyone was going bezerk. I saw my team and everyone jumping around,” said Forder.

“I was over the moon. I am getting goose bumps as we speak,” she added. “Everything fell into place fortunately for me after my little hiccup.”

Qualifying third for the final in Sydney was Australia’s Tokyo Olympian, Dina Aspandiyarova, who was competing for her native Kazakhstan. Aspandiyarova ultimately finished fifth in the final.

Forder won a pair of bronze medals in the individual 10m Air Pistol and 10m Air Pistol \Teams event at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games.

One of her team-mates at the Manchester Commonwealth Games was Lalita Yauhleuskaya who won a 25m Sports Pistol bronze medal for Belarus at the Sydney Olympics. Her son, Sergei Evglevski, will represent Australia at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Sadly, Sydney 2000 was Forder’s last Olympics because of a debilitating neck injury primarily caused by her right arm and left dominant eye shooting style which pinched the C2 and C3 vertebrae in her neck.

This pinching sent nerve pains shooting down her right arm and despite a maintenance program, cortisone injections and having a year off after the Sydney Olympics, the injury did not sufficiently heal, and she was forced to retire six months prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“I was told to stop shooting otherwise I could potentially become paralysed. That abruptly ended my shooting career,” she said.

But 16 years after retiring and now with a medical all-clear, Forder is considering a comeback and is eyeing selection for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“I still have unfinished business,” said Forder, who is a member at Gold Coast Pistol Club and the Brisbane International Pistol Club.

“It is one thing to get a medal. It is a completely different world to be an Olympic champion and that’s my dream, that’s my goal, that’s my drive. It was since I was a little kid,” she said.

“I love the sport. I’ve always enjoyed doing it and I certainly do miss it a helluva lot.”

Forder will be 46 years of age by the Paris Games and looks to Dench and Woodward as inspiration.

“Patti Dench was 52 in Los Angeles and Annette Woodward was 56 in Atlanta, and I’m only 42,” she said.

And as Forder proved at the Sydney Olympics, nothing is beyond her.

 

 


Russell’s fair play hit the mark at Sydney 2000 Olympics

By Greg Campbell

The Olympics brings out the best in sport and in athletes’ sportsmanship and Russell Mark’s actions, when beaten in the men’s Double Trap final shoot-off at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, have largely gone unheralded.

Mark arrived at the Sydney Games as the defending Olympic champion after comfortably winning the event four years earlier at the Atlanta Olympics.

In the Atlanta Double Trap final was a raw, 19-year-old British athlete named Richard Faulds and, by the time the Sydney Olympics had rolled on, Mark identified him as the major threat to his bid for back-to-back Olympic gold medals.

Whilst they were rivals on the range, they were firm friends once the shotguns were unloaded.

In the final months leading into the Sydney Olympics, Mark invited Faulds and his coach Ian Coley to stay in Werribee, on the south-western outskirts of Melbourne, and train with him at the Werribee Victorian Clay Target Club.

While he had won a World Cup event at the Sydney International Shooting Centre six months prior to the Olympics, Mark was desperately trying to recapture the form he displayed at the Atlanta Olympics and he believed training with Faulds will help his gold medal defence.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, when you train with someone who is shooting better than you are, you get better,” said Mark.

The tactic worked during qualifying at the Sydney Olympics when Mark shot an Olympic record score of 143, including a perfect second round score of 50, to open a two target lead over Faulds, Sweden’s Conny Persson and Fehaid Al Deehani from Kuwait.

In the final, Faulds shot a brilliant 46 from 50 targets while Mark managed 44.

With the scores level, the two friends were now locked in a nerve-racking shoot-off with the 10,000-strong crowd desperate for another Michael Diamond-Russell Mark shotgun quinella after Diamond successfully defended his men’s Trap gold medal two days earlier.

As tensions soared, Mark missed one of his first two clays to open the door for Faulds, but the Brit missed his second target much to the loud delight of the home crowd.

With the gold medal on the line, Mark’s deep sense of fair play took over and he turned to the crowd and motioned them not to repeat the cheering when an opponent missed a target.

“They (the crowd) were sort of rude and the protocol of shooting is obviously like it is for golf,” Mark explained.

“I made a mistake, I guess, tactically because I turned around, and you never turn around. You should never look at anyone other than in front. I asked them (the crowd) to be quiet and then of course I missed the next shot and Richard won the Olympics and I finished second,” he said.

Despite the bitter disappointment of being so desperately close to a second Olympic gold medal, Mark has no regrets for his actions.

“I wouldn’t have felt right if I had won the Olympic Games the way the crowd was. The crowd was prepared to do everything to put Richard off,  bar throw rocks at him,” said Mark

“The right guy, in all honesty, won the Olympics that day. Four years before that in Atlanta, he went perilously close as a teenager.”

With his wicked sense of humour, Mark says he lost the gold medal a week prior to the Sydney Olympics when Faulds and Coley were finishing their training in Werribee.

Both Faulds and Coley were keen fishermen and Mark’s dad, Brian, invited them to take his 30 feet twin engine twin hull fishing boat out on Port Phillip Bay.

However, Brian Mark forgot to insert the plug at the bottom of the boat, and the British pair eventually made their way back to shore after bailing several bucket-loads of water in an attempt to remain afloat.

“I remember berating my father when they came ashore saying ‘I just gave you one job, one job, and you blew it. You let him come back!’” he said with a laugh.

Despite being runner-up to Faulds, Mark holds fond memories of the Sydney Olympics.

“Every Olympian always wants to have a home Games and to have a home Olympic Games was special. There was some home ground advantage because the range was open a full year before the Olympic Games and there are not too many Olympic venues where you get that opportunity, so we did a lot of training at that venue,” he said.

“It certainly made my result better. I was under no illusions that I probably wasn’t at my best when I went to the Sydney Olympics but having known every blade of grass on that ground, it certainly helped.”

In 1996, Mark was at the peak of his form and he enjoyed a close bond with Diamond where they travelled overseas together and were regular team room-mates before both winning Olympic gold medals.

“I’ve often said that I believe Michael winning (in Atlanta) helped me win. It’s very hard to soar with eagles if you are knocking around with turkeys. And when you are rooming with someone of Michael’s calibre, as he was certainly back in that period, it helped me. There’s no doubt about it,” he said.

However, Mark admits he lost full focus in Shooting after his Atlanta gold medal despite later attending the Sydney 2000, 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics.

“I was never quite the force again, I believe, when I left that ground in Atlanta that afternoon. I probably never shot at 100 per cent again,” he said.

“Winning an Olympic gold medal is great, but it’s not the be-all and end-all in your life. I think when I got it, within a couple of months of getting it, I realised there were more important things in my life than sport,” he added.

In the years to follow, Mark had purchased the first of two hotels, worked as a radio sports commentator and presenter in Melbourne, served on the Board of Shooting Australia and the Victorian Olympic Committee, and dabbled in politics as a Liberal Party Federal candidate before withdrawing from the election race.


Hamish Blair/ALLSPORT

Diamond defied tragedy to claim Sydney 2000 gold

By Greg Campbell

Michael Diamond arrived at the Sydney 2000 Olympics with a heavy heart but with a sharp eye.

Diamond was the defending men’s trap gold medallist after reaching the top of the dais at the Atlanta Olympics four years earlier.

The Sydney Olympics were a special home Games in his home state. The excitement was building with each day in the lead-up to the Opening Ceremony, and the Olympic Torch was a unifying beacon bringing Australians together in a rare spirit as it was passed between runners across the country.

Emotions are always high among athletes at an Olympic Games. Years of tireless preparation and sacrifice had come down to the final defining moment.

For all Olympians, there is often one or a handful of people who help steer the course.

For Diamond, that man was his father Constantine who taught his son how to shoot at a very early age. He was Diamond’s coach, mentor and support person throughout his career culminating in winning the men’s trap gold medal in Atlanta.

He was there with his son every step of the way…..until shortly before the Sydney Olympics.

Twelve weeks prior to the Games, Diamond was overseas competing and finalising his pre-Games preparation.

Constantine was not enjoying good health and, sadly, he passed away in hospital while Diamond was competing in the Perazzi Cup in England. Diamond’s family chose not to inform him while overseas and they broke the news to him on arrival at Sydney Airport.

“It was traumatic for me,” said Diamond.

When he walked out onto the trap range at the Sydney International Shooting Centre at Cecil Park, his father was deep inside him as he hit 72 of 75 targets on day one of qualification to open a handy two-shot lead.

A day later, he was the top qualifier for the six-man final after shooting a perfect 50 targets in the second qualifying round to extend his lead to four targets.

Steeled by his father’s memories and his advice, Diamond was never going to let his dad down in the final.

Credit: Hamish Blair/ALLSPORT

“I heard his words all through the entire Olympics,” said Diamond. “They were the same words I heard prior to the final in Atlanta. ‘Don’t move the gun before you see the target. When you see the target, shoot it with a controlled amount of aggression. Don’t back off. You’re in the final now, go and finish it off’.”

And finish it off he did. Diamond was peerless in the final hitting all 25 targets to claim the gold medal by five targets.

Watching in the grandstand was his mother Afrothiti. When she managed to reach her son, there were tears of unbridled joy tinged with deep sadness that Constantine was absent. “But his spirit is here with us,” said Afrothiti at the time.

Diamond’s memories of his gold medal victory remain vivid 20 years on.

He told Shooting Australia TV, “It was a very humbling feeling to see the Australian flag rise the highest of all three on the dais. And to listen to the national anthem is definitely a tear-jerking moment.”

Despite the heartbreak of losing Constantine, Diamond was never going to let down the memory of his father at the Sydney Games.

“My cousin Larry was a keen supporter of mine and he made sure I went to the gun club and trained,” said Diamond.

Diamond also knew the Sydney International Shooting Centre trap range like the back of his hand.

As the weeks counted down to the Olympics, Diamond would practice at different times of the day, in different light conditions and in various winds.

He was not going to let anything fall to chance and he eventually claimed the gold medal by the largest winning men’s trap margin since the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

“I went into the Games the most prepared competitor in the world,” he said.

Diamond went on to compete at three further Olympics in 2004, 2008 and 2012 after making his Olympic debut when placed 11th at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, he finished eighth and it was his team-mate, Adam Vella, who stood on the podium with a bronze medal.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Diamond reached the final but eventually finished fourth after losing a shoot-off for the bronze medal to Russia’s Aleksei Alipov – the 2004 Olympic gold medallist.

Then at the 2012 London Olympic Games, he equalled the world record when hitting a perfect round of 125 from 125 targets. He became one of only three men ever to have shot a perfect score of 125 in the five rounds of qualifying.

But in the closely fought final, he missed five targets when hitting 20 from 25 and finished in equal third place with Fehaid al-Dehani from Kuwait – just one target behind Giovanni Cernogoraz from Croatia and Italy’s Massimo Fabbrizi who shot-off for the gold medal.

Diamond lost the bronze medal shoot-off to al-Dehani.

Credit: Darren McNamara /Allsport

“I was looking at my third Olympic gold medal with only five targets to go and to have missed out by one shot, that’s the sign of a lot of pressure,” said Diamond.

“It was just one of those things – a hard day at the office,” Diamond said. “I felt really good in my preliminaries and even going into the final I was quietly confident.”

Diamond said he made a basic error in the final.

“I anticipated a target. I knew where it was going, and I just overshot it. I got quite annoyed with myself … I don’t usually do that. I was just a little bit upset with myself and, as a result, the second one went flying into the ground again,” he said at the time.

In addition to his two Olympic gold medals, Diamond also collected gold medals in four of his five Commonwealth Games in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010, plus three silver medals.

Individual gold medals were clinched at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur and 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, and men’s pairs gold was achieved in Manchester, 2006 in Melbourne and 2010 in Delhi.

His career total of 27 gold, 24 silver and seven bronze medals in international competition in individual trap, double trap and pairs competitions make Diamond Australia’s greatest ever Shooting athlete and arguably the world’s best ever men’s trap athlete.


Zappelli tees up for Tokyo Paralympic medal dream

By Greg Campbell

When Anton Zappelli was a rising teenage golfer playing in Graham Marsh Junior Golf Foundation events in Western Australia off a handicap of three, he never dreamt that one day the mental focus to succeed in golf would help take him to the Paralympic Games as one of the world’s best para rifle athletes.

Like golf, shooting is a sport which requires a single-minded focus where outside distractions need to be disregarded and personal thoughts need to be firmly controlled. Let your mind wander and a score in the tens easily becomes an eight or a nine, just like a simple par can turn into an ugly bogey or worse.

“There’s a lot of similarities,” explained Zappelli. “I’m right into the precision of shooting and I like that the most. It’s a mental game. Once you master the process, then it’s all in your mind and golf is the same.

“You can hit the ball a mile but when it comes down to the pressure and controlling your mind, if you’re not there with that you may as well not be playing,” he said.

“With shooting its very similar. I’d say it’s a 99% mind game at the top level once everything is sorted with your equipment and your skill levels are up there. Then it all comes down to what’s between your ears.”

Zappelli’s path to be a certain selection to attend his second Paralympic Games in Tokyo next year has been part of a long and colourful adventure which has seen him travel around Australia and across the world.

It is a journey which has also seen him ride life’s steep rollercoaster of emotion.

His life changed forever in 1989 when, aged 17, his back was broken in a car accident 75 kilometres north west of Kalgoorlie in central WA. His girlfriend at the time, who did not hold a driver’s license, lost control of the car on a corrugated road, hit a one metre high windrow and the car flipped end to end.

“My fracture is known as a common seat belt fracture. The seatbelt saved me from going through the windscreen, but actually broke my back at the same time,” he said.

A long rehabilitation period in Perth was required and he admits it was very difficult to come to terms with the loss of dreams and hopes.

“Prior to that, my life was on track. As a young fella, I was pretty determined and had a lot of goals set and I was working towards those goals and life was set out in front of me. I knew exactly where I was going and then, all of a sudden, it’s all gone,” he said.

Zappelli returned to Kalgoorlie but was soon back in Perth because there were limited opportunities for a wheelchair user in the goldfields.

Back in Perth, it was sport and a chance meeting with Paralympic wheelchair racer, Louise Sauvage, which turned his life around.

“Sport was a big part of my recovery,” said Zappelli. “It was probably the thing which pulled me together.

“I really wanted to play tennis and I went down to wheelchair sports and met with Louise and she goes, nah, nah you don’t want to play tennis. We’ve got a track chair here and it will fit you so come down and train with us, and it went from there. Within weeks I was training 4-5 times a week and got right into road racing,” he said.

Soon after, Zappelli was travelling to the USA and Canada with the Australian wheelchair racing team and competed in the famous Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta in 1993 where Australia dominated with Sauvage and Paul Wiggins winning the men’s and women’s wheelchair races.

“Paul was the first guy ever to break the 20 minute mark for the 10km. I came in 22nd,” he recalled.

The 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games beckoned and Zappelli was earmarked to make the team.

But he met an aspiring young singer by the name of Donna Simpson. She and her younger sister Vicki and Josh Cunningham formed the Award winning folk rock band, The Waifs.

In the months leading into the Atlanta Paralympics, Zappelli burnt a leg in a bath and was unable to get into his track chair.

The Waifs were heading north on tour and they invited Zappelli to join them while he spent 3-4 weeks recovering from his injury.

“I flew into Broome to meet up and didn’t come back. I didn’t see a winter for four years,” said Zappelli who became the band’s roadie stringing and tuning guitars.

“I upset a lot of people in the sporting world back then, but I had a great time. 4-5 years travelling Australia in a wheelchair with some great people was something I wouldn’t change,” he said.

The band briefly dispersed after they moved to Melbourne to break into the Australian music scene and Zappelli and Simpson returned to Perth. The band then later decided to reform, but Zappelli opted to stay in Perth.

In 2009, some of Zappelli’s mates were talking about riding Quadbikes across Australia.

“I was asked to join them. After a few meetings the plan had become bigger than Ben Hur. We decided to make a documentary where we would visit our crash sites as we traversed the country. Fellow rider Jim Cairns, also the assistant producer, sneakily talked my then fiancé Kate into having our wedding at Uluru,” said Zappelli.

“It (the documentary) was basically to show that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and get out there and make it happen,” said Zappelli.

Visiting his crash site was difficult for Zappelli. “It was not a nice place for me,” he said.

Remarkably, 21 years after his accident, the number plate of his ex-girlfriend’s parents four door work ute was still located at the site.

With his road racing career now behind him, Zappelli was looking for a new sporting challenge and was invited to the rifle range in 2011.

Growing up in Kalgoorlie, Zappelli shot Air Rifle at the local PCYC Club and was instantly attracted to the sport.

“I was always looking for a sport similar to golf – an individual sport,” he said.

By 2014, Zappelli made his international shooting debut travelling to World Cup and World Championship events in England and Germany and, a year later, claimed his first international medal, a silver, in Croatia and also claimed a quota for the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.

The Rio Paralympics was a challenging experience for Zappelli as he was unwell on the flight to the Games and battled equipment issues throughout with his rifle. He finished 18th in the Mixed 10m Air Rifle prone SH1 and 36th in the Mixed 50m Air Rifle prone SH1.

He bounced back with bronze medals in 2017 at the World Shooting Para Sport (WSPS) event in the UAE and Croatia and was named co-winner of Shooting Australia’s Para Shooter of the Year with Chris Pitt.

He earned a Tokyo Paralympic Games quota at the 2018 WSPS World Championship in Korea and his great form continued last year with a silver medal at the WSPS Event in Hannover before another silver, just 0.3 points off the gold medal, in the WSPS World Championship in Sydney.

These performances saw him named the 2019 Para Shooter of the Year and the prestigious Ashley Adams Perpetual Athlete of the Year.

Earning the Tokyo Paralympic Games quota has seen Zappelli become a more relaxed athlete.

“I don’t have the pressure of the quota hanging over my head. My mindset has changed after Korea. Now I just enjoy the moment and enjoy the competition and strive to do my process the best I can,” he said.

With travel support from the West Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS), Zappelli is looking forward to borders re-opening so he can commence his preparation for the Tokyo Paralympics. Ideally, that would involve competing overseas prior to Tokyo.

Now with nine year-old twin boys, Henry and Angus, and a four year old daughter Josie with wife Kate, Zappelli has his own Tokyo cheer squad and his focus is to bring home a special Games memento.

“I expect myself to make finals and a chance at gold,” he said.


Pitt’s shooting investment pays off with global rewards

By Greg Campbell

Chris Pitt loves fishing. He’s been doing it for decades in Queensland’s tropical north.

For the Bundaberg local, there is nothing better than trundling out onto the water with some mates, casting a line and solving the world’s problems while waiting for a bite or two.

Given his passion for fishing, you can understand what a massive decision it was eight years ago when he sold his beloved tinny to scrape up enough cash to have a crack at the world of para-shooting as a 25m Sports Pistol athlete.

At 47 years of age at the time, Pitt was no spring chicken and it took another Bundaberg local, 15-year old wheelchair racer Rheed McCracken, to show him the way when he won silver and bronze medals on the track at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

The Pitt and McCracken families knew each other well when serving on the local Fairymead Swimming Club committee, while Pitt swam with McCracken mother Samantha.

“When I watched Rheed at the 2012 Paralympics, that’s when I thought if a 15-year old kid can go all around the world and do what he’s doing, I need to man up a bit and have a go at this. That’s when the penny dropped,” said Pitt.

To understand how Pitt reached this life-changing point of his life, we need to go back to his early years.

Growing up on a 69 hectare cane farm with his two older brothers Russell and Bruce, and older sister Suellen, Pitt loved playing sport and was a particularly fine swimmer.

Then in early 1975, a few months short of his 10th birthday, Pitt’s times in the pool began to slow, training was getting harder, and where he once leapt up the wall at the end of a race, it was a real struggle to climb up the ladder at the side of the pool.

After months of medical tests and periods in hospital, Pitt was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called dermatomyositis. Fatal to many, the disease eventually burnt itself out but left Pitt in a wheelchair.

Fast forward 35 years and Pitt only tried target pistol shooting at the urging of a couple of wheelchair mates.

“They nagged me and nagged me to come and try and, eventually after a month, I gave in and went out to the range with them. I was instantly hooked, and, to a point, I still am,” he said.

With his dormant competitive sports spirit now re-kindled, Pitt’s ability with a Sports Pistol in hand soared.

Where it took most athletes 4-8 years to be competitive internationally, it took Pitt just 18 months.

During an Aus Cup competition in 2012, Pitt was pulled aside for a chat by former Australian Commonwealth Games pistol athlete, Peter Heuke, after an impressive performance where he scored a world class score of 572.

“He took me out the back of the range and said, ‘do you know what you have just done?’ I said, ‘I shot a pretty good score I think’. He said, ‘you don’t realise that you have just opened up a whole world of possibility’.

“I said, ‘what are you talking about?’. He said, ’that’s a very competitive score and you have the ability to go as far as you want.’

“Then I started to think and started to investigate scores at World Cups, and I thought geez, I can do this, but I can’t afford to do the domestic travels – the competitions I had to do. So, I chewed on it for nearly nine months and I decided to have a go.

“So, I sold my little tinny. I got four grand for it. It got me two trips to Sydney and a case of ammo,” he added.

On his first trip to Sydney, Pitt needed a score of 560 to make the National Para Shooting squad but was left shattered when he fell an agonising three points short of the mark.

“560 was the benchmark score and I thought that would be a walk in the park,” Pitt recalled.

But the former National High Performance Coach for Athletes with a Disability, Miroslav Sipek, recognised his ability and invited him onto the squad despite missing the target score.

“I’d gone from devastation to elation,” said Pitt.

Then in 2013, the world of shooting opened up when he took his first overseas trip when representing Australia at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup competition in Poland and, later, flew to Thailand for another IPC World Cup.

In 2014, he captured his first international medal in Sports Pistol when runner-up at the IPC World Cup competition in Fort Benning, USA.

His passport saw additional entry stamps to Croatia, Germany and the UAE before attending the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games with the Australian team.

“Without shooting, I would have been lucky to actually leave the state. Shooting has opened up a whole world to me. I think about it all the time what it has given me,” he said.

While the world’s borders have opened for Pitt, he is not a fan of long-haul travel.

“I still dislike the long distance travel, but I now know what to expect and I tolerate it a lot more. It is very tiring and uncomfortable,” he said.

Pitt has fond memories of the Rio Paralympics and came within a whisker of returning home with a bronze medal in the Mixed Sports Pistol SH1 event.

During qualification, Pitt was languishing in 24th position and facing elimination after the precision round but rocketed up to seventh and a place in the final after a splendid rapid fire round of shots.

In the final, Pitt had to win a shoot-off to reach the bronze medal match which he ultimately lost to Korea’s Lee Ju-hee.

“Rio was an awesome experience. Straight away I decided I’ll have another go at this. I thought it was unbelievable, especially going into that stadium for the Opening Ceremony. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I’ll never forget that one,” he said.

The Tokyo Paralympic Games next year is firmly in Pitt’s sights and he has yet to claim a quota to be eligible for Australian team selection.

The Queensland Academy of Sport athlete was to travel to Peru last May to try and claim a quota, but the global COVID-19 outbreak has seen that competition postponed until May next year, if travel restrictions are lifted.

He had an opportunity to claim a quota at the Oceania Championships in Sydney last October but didn’t convert the chance.

“That was extremely disappointing. It was that expectation. Not keeping it simple, getting ahead of myself and then basically a string of poor shots and I started to panic a bit. Two poor strings and it’s just chaos in my head,” he lamented.

While the international shooting calendar waits finalisation, Pitt continues to conduct dry firing at home and live firing at the Bundaberg Pistol Club range. Quality rather than quantity is now his training regime.

And fishing is very much part of the downtime away from training where he and his cousin Lex Roberts hop into their polycraft for what he calls ‘an outing’.

With the world turned upside down because of COVID-19, the pandemic has halted any retirement plans.

“One thing I’ve learned from this COVID thing is that I need shooting. I was toying with the idea of Tokyo, and that’s it,” he said.

“But over the last few months I’ve decided to keep on going until they kick me out of the door as long as I am competitive and shooting well enough to be on the squad and not embarrass myself,” he added.

And that means fishing for more medals on the international stage.


Natalie beats challenges in her quest for more Paralympic medals

By Greg Campbell

Natalie Smith has a happy knack of conquering the seemingly impossible. Overcoming obstacles is like target shooting. You take aim at the target, you focus and concentrate, then pull the trigger and enjoy the result.

In 12 month’s time, Smith will line up for her third Paralympic Games in Tokyo where she will contest the women’s 10m Air Rifle SH1 event. Watching proudly will be her husband, Stuart, and their young son, Daniel.

With a Games quota position safely tucked away, thanks to a gold medal winning performance, after a shoot-off, at the World Shooting Para Sport championship in Chateauroux, France in 2018, Smith will be aspiring for another medal podium finish at the Tokyo Paralympics nine years after her unexpected bronze medal at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

Growing up in Victoria, Smith was an active sports participant and worked as a surgical theatre nurse for eight years.

Her first love was equestrian and was a state level dressage and eventing competitor. She also enjoyed the adrenalin rush of wakeboarding and sky diving.

However, her life turned upside down in 2009 when she slipped on a rock when hiking on a tourist path near Ayres Rock and suffered spinal cord injuries resulting in paraplegia.

“I went on a tourist walk and came back different,” said Smith.

Smith wasn’t going to let her injury limit her active lifestyle, so she and husband Stuart headed north to Queensland in 2010 which was the only state to offer the Walk On rehabilitation program which assists a person with a spinal cord injury improve and maximise their functional ability and help them lead a more independent life.

Smith then became involved with Sporting Wheelies and attended a Come and Try day at the Belmont Shooting Complex – a 25 minute drive from her Meadowbrook home in south-east Brisbane.

“It was a time where I was struggling to find things to do that felt normal after my accident. It gave me more a sense of control over everything I was doing,” she said.

Smith had good genes as a target shooter. Her late grandfather Norman Lutz was selected in the Australian Olympic team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics but was forced to withdraw from the Games after suffering a heart-attack.

“People have told me he was an amazing shooter and a gunsmith. My dad says he wishes he could be around now because he would have been exceptionally helpful with equipment. He used to make his own stocks,” she said.

Right from the outset, Smith showed eye-catching ability with a rifle but for many in the shooting community, they believe selection for the London Paralympic Games was unachievable.

“A lot of people said you won’t make London because it’s not far away and my husband said ‘why not. Let’s give it a go’,” recalled Smith.

“It was never the aim to shoot at the Paralympics. It was to be the best shooter that I could be and see where they could take me,” she added.

However, Smith continued to excel and she made her international debut at an unofficial World Cup event in London in 2011. But it was the travel to London, and not the competition, which she dreaded the most.

“It was more of how am I going to cope on a plane and how was I going to cope overseas? The shooting was the shooting and that was fine. Once I was on the range, I was good to go. It was more dealing with the disability side that was much scarier,” she said.

And her fears were immediately realised when she checked into her London hotel only to find she was booked in a second floor room with no elevator access.

Later in 2011, Smith travelled to Fort Benning in the USA where she won the gold medal.

“It (her gold medal win) was a shock to everyone and a shock to me. No one expected anything. I didn’t expect anything, and we were pleasantly surprised,” she said.

Smith then upstaged the pundits and won selection alongside South Australia’s highly decorated nine-time Paralympic Games gold medallist, Libby Kosmala, for the 2012 London Paralympics where she qualified fourth for the 10m Air Rifle SH1 final.

Towards the end of the tightly contested final, Smith had slipped into fifth position with one shot remaining. “I thought that’s it, I’m done,” she recalled.

With a medal on the line, Smith’s theatre nursing and past sports experience kicked-in.

“I’ve always been competing. I don’t really suffer from nerves because I’ve always had to work in high pressure situations, and I enjoy that,” she said.

“The good part was that I actually hadn’t been doing it for quite so long. All I had to think about was just shoot it, and not the pressure where I needed to end up. I just needed to focus on that shot and do it,” she added.

Smith was the last athlete to fire her final shot and registered a score of 10.5 to leapfrog into the bronze medal position.

Her athlete monitor showed she was placed third momentarily before the scores were publicly displayed on the crowd scoreboard.

She then had the satisfaction of turning to the see the reaction of her husband, her parents-in-law and the Australian team members when the final scores were displayed on the scoreboard.

“It was amazing to see their anticipation and then their joy when it (the score) actually came up,” she said.

With one sporting obstacle successfully completed, Smith then faced an even bigger challenge – giving birth.

Doctors had warned Smith and her husband that their chances of having children were low because of her disability, but once again proved the doubters wrong when she gave birth to Daniel in April 2014.

Immediately after giving birth by emergency caesarean section, Smith also underwent hip surgery.

She returned to shooting soon after giving birth but suffered a series of infections and was later hospitalised and forced to undergo further surgeries which sidelined her from the 2014 World Championships.

But she returned to the world circuit in 2015 and qualified for the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games where she finished just outside the medals in fifth position.

With a year to the Tokyo Paralympics, Smith and fellow rifle athlete Anton Zapelli are the only two Australians to win quota positions to date.

The Tokyo Games will also see Smith participate in her first Opening Ceremony.

Traditionally, rifle events are contested on the first day of competition forcing Smith to miss the spectacle, but shooting has now been scheduled later in the Games program.

The delay of the Games by 12 months has proved to be a blessing in disguise for Smith as the extra time has also allowed her to fully recuperate from some injuries.

She is now back practicing at the Belmont Range with her son Daniel in tow. “He’s my little champion. He’s a real social butterfly,” she beamed.

And he is her constant reminder that anything is possible.

 

 


Glen eyes another adventure at the Tokyo Paralympics

By Greg Campbell

Fate and circumstance work in mysterious ways and are often intertwined.

As a young man growing up in Brisbane’s eastern suburbs, Glen McMurtrie loved the outdoor life swimming recreationally, playing AFL and contesting triathlons. Sport was a fun, amateurish  undertaking and he had no thought of elite representative honours.

His venturesome streak saw him travel and backpack across Europe and, like so many other Australians, he returned home with a wealth of memories but with no wealth remaining in his pocket.

With an electrical trade tucked away in his CV, McMurtrie’s adventurous streak saw him take up a position working in the Mt Isa Mines. It was the mining boom and hard work in Queensland’s west was offset with fearless play.

Mt Isa’s hot, semi-arid and spacious landscape was well-suited for dirt bike riding, another new sport which attracted the bold McMurtrie.

But on one fateful day in November 2009, McMurtrie and a mate were riding home 20km south of Mount Isa when he was suddenly thrown off his bike.

“They say you switch off the closer you get to home. That’s what 100 per cent happened to me,” said McMurtrie. “I hit a rock, landed head-first and fractured the T4 vertebrae in my back. It was my own fault. I was going too fast. That sent me on a life changing path.”

Three months in Brisbane’s Prince Alexandra Hospital seemed like an eternity, but McMurtrie preferred to look ahead instead of contemplating the rear vision mirror.

“There was a lot of time to reflect. Of course, you have your good and bad days, but I was adamant that I was still alive. I still have my head, I could still make decisions, I was responsible for how I feel, and I didn’t dwell on it,” he said.

“I got my (drivers) licence back when in hospital. All these things were manageable, plus I had a good network of family and friends,” he added.

Despite his life-changing accident, Mt Isa and its community held fond memories for McMurtrie.

The Mt Isa Border Ride cycling event, a 202km ride from Mt Isa to the Northern Territory border, is a local sporting highlight and McMurtrie was the charity beneficiary in 2010 when event proceeds funded a hand cycle for his use.

With his hand cycle stowed in his car in preparation for another Border Ride challenge in August 2014, McMurtrie was making the 20 hour drive from Brisbane to Mt Isa when fate stepped in once again.

To break up the drive, McMurtrie had booked a disabled access room in a Dalby hotel.

When he arrived, the hotel owners had mistakenly given McMurtrie’s room to another wheelchair-bound man, Ashley Adams, a five-time Paralympic shooting athlete who was making the long drive from Brisbane Airport to his 26,000 ha cattle farm in Blackall, in western Queensland, after returning from competing in Germany just hours earlier.

“He beat me by 10 minutes and took the room,” said McMurtrie.

The pair started chatting and McMurtrie was quickly sucked into the vortex of Adams’ remarkable life as one of the world’s best para rifle athletes.

Adams showed an inquisitive McMurtrie his rifles and, before he knew it, a hooked McMurtrie wheeled out to his car to get a notepad and pen to jot down notes despite having never attended a shooting range despite living close to the Belmont Shooting Complex in Brisbane.

“He gave me a lifetime worth of advice on the night I met him. He even told me to put bullets in the microwave to remove the wax on them!,” recalled McMurtrie.

Encouraged by Adams’ enthusiasm and support, McMurtrie soon headed to the Belmont Shooting Complex for a rifle ‘Come and Try’ day and was quickly attracted by the sport.

Adams was competing on the same day and, soon after, McMurtrie agreed to buy one of Adams’ air rifles.

“That was my real start because I had my own rifle, I could adjust it and set it up how I want. It was a great rifle to start with,” he said.

“I eventually got some really good gear, got set up, and got right into it, and trained and was shooting some really respectable scores,” he added.

While shooting appeared simple on the outside, McMurtrie didn’t fully appreciate the mental side of the sport.

“It was all new and exciting and that’s where I thought, hang on a minute, there’s a lot more to this sport than having a nice rifle and shooting some good scores,” he said.

“The challenge is silencing all those voices. It’s getting into a good state and you know you’ve done everything to prepare and you follow and trust your processes. Just trust you are going to shoot good shots if you do what you are meant to be doing,” he added.

Within two years of the fateful meeting with Adams in Dalby, McMurtrie was heading to Bangkok alongside team-mates Natalie Smith, Anton Zapelli, Chris Pitt and Luke Cain as members of the Australian team.

“I could never imagine being an athlete representing my country. I always just did sport for fun,” he said.

More international competitions in Germany, Poland and the UAE followed in 2017 and he secured a silver medal in 2018 when teaming with Smith and Zapelli in the R3 10m Air Rifle prone team event at the World Shooting Para Sport Championship in Korea.

A bronze medal followed in February last year when he and Smith were paired in the inaugural Rifle Standing Mixed Team final at the World Shooting Para Sport World Cup in Al Ain.

Despite his teams medal successes, McMurtrie has yet to claim an individual podium finish.

“I’ve had five fifths!” he said with a laugh.

He is also striving to attend the Tokyo Paralympic Games next year after being a mere 0.1 point from clinching an Australian team spot.

McMurtrie was scheduled to travel to Peru last May in an attempt to seize the one last remaining 10m Air Rifle SH1 quota place, but the outbreak of COVID-19 saw this competition cancelled.

This competition has been re-scheduled for May next year, subject to health restrictions.

While he waits to contest for a Games quota, McMurtrie continues to train 3-4 days a week at the Belmont Range, while the Queensland Academy of Sport provides strength and conditioning programs.

Away from the sport, McMurtrie works as a Process Instrumentation and Control teacher at Eagle Farm TAFE and was recognised last year when named Metropolitan Region TAFE Teacher of the Year.

Like his students, McMurtrie is a fast learner when it comes to the world of target shooting and an Australian team berth at next year’s Paralympic Games would be the perfect outcome for a man who never dreamed of representing his country in sport.