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.
“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.
“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.