When Richard Sammon walks into the Olympic Village for the Tokyo Olympic Games in July, he will reflect on two life-changing, sliding door moments which sees him enter as the Australian Olympic Team Shotgun coach.
Growing up in Wangaratta in northern Victoria, Sammon learned how to shoot American Skeet and he enjoyed domestic and international success, winning titles in New Zealand on the eve of his 17th birthday when travelling as part of the Australian Team.
But, like most teenagers in their late teens, life’s priorities soon changed.
“When I got back from that trip, I didn’t shoot a lot. I started playing footy, started chasing girls, finished school and got an apprenticeship. Life kind of got in the way a little bit and I didn’t shoot for nearly 20 years,” he explained.
Enter his son Max.
Although Sammon and his family now lived in suburban Melbourne, his Shooting bloodlines were passed on to young Max.
“He wanted to learn how to shoot, and it was he who brought me back to the sport,” he said.
Sammon was now back shooting competitively at Frankston Gun Club where 2004 Athens Olympic men’s Trap bronze medallist, Adam Vella, was also a member.
After he competed at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Vella was appointed National Shotgun Coach and he asked Sammon if he could assist him in the lead-up to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, at various World Cup competitions, and at the World Championships in the months to follow.
When Vella decided to step down as National Shotgun Coach at the end of 2018, Sammon had a taste of High Performance sport and relished its enticing flavour.
He decided to apply for the vacant advertised position – a difficult decision to make as he was a Senior Project Manager with major electrical contracting company, Trivantage, where he was responsible for multiple multi-million projects.
“It was not an easy decision, but I am so glad I did. I loved what I was doing (at Trivantage) but I found it (Shooting) an energising environment,” said Sammon.
Ironically, Sammon believes his career as an electrician and Project Manager have fashioned the necessary skills for him to become the National Shotgun Coach.
“It was the skills that I developed in my professional career that have actually led me to this role,” he said.
“Within my business, I’ve lost count of the number of apprentices that I’ve put through. You can’t rush an apprenticeship. You can’t learn it all in your first year. You might think you can, but you can’t,” he explained.
“You’ve got to have that experience and that’s very similar to an athletes journey in their development. Coaching is teaching and you can teach in lots of different spaces, whether it be the works space, or on a sporting field.
“Then there’s the management side of it and that’s one of the skills that I’ve obviously brought through from my business life.
“I used to run multiple multi-million dollar projects that I had to report financially on every month. I had project managers with teams of electricians that reported up through me.
“Having an understanding of how systems work, how organisations function, how to manage stakeholders – all those skills that I’ve learned are readily very transferrable into this domain that I’m in now,” he added.
While the Tokyo Games will be Sammon’s first Olympic experience, he participated in the Olympic nomination selection trails for the 2016 Rio Olympics where Keith Ferguson and Tokyo Olympic team member, Paul Adams, claimed the two available men’s Skeet quota nominations.
In 2018 and 2019, Sammon travelled to contest the New Zealand Skeet Nationals. I2019 he won the High Gun by three shots from fellow Frankston Gun Club member, Mike Buttigieg, and also proudly shared the podium with son Max in the Doubles when placed second with Max winning the bronze medal.
ISSF Skeet Shooting was not on Sammon’s radar when growing up on the family’s 800 acre farm on the Ovens River.
His dad, Brian, was President of the Wangaratta Rovers Australian Football Club, but young Richard was into Shooting through controlling wild foxes and rabbits on the family farm.
“Out the back of the Vine Hotel was the Wangaratta Clay Target Club,” he recalled.
“Dad would be in having a beer and I’d wander out the back and wander around this gun club midweek when nobody was there. I would go and pick up these clay targets and take them home. I’d then get my cousins to throw them up in the air and I’d try and shoot them with my slug gun,” he said.
After starting in Down The Line Shooting, Sammon soon began competing in various Skeet competitions.
“I found Skeet was more akin to the field Shooting that I had done with crossing targets. The thing I loved about Skeet was that you had one shot per target. You either hit it or you missed it. It’s pretty binary in that way,” he said.
Sammon notes there is competitive banter between the Skeet and Trap communities.
“There is always that bit of rivalry between the Skeet and the Trap shooters which is usually fairly healthy. We’re all Shotgun shooters and we shoot clay targets. We share a lot of similarities even though we poke fun at each other,” he said.
Sammon is well aware of Australia’s great Olympic record in Shotgun events and the associated expectations since Michael Diamond and Russell Mark collected the nation’s first Shooting gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
In Tokyo, Sammon will guide a talented six-member Shotgun team aiming for podium finishes despite COVID-19 depriving the athletes of overseas international competition over the past 12 months and through to the Games in July.
Australia will be represented in men’s and women’s Trap by Penny Smith, Laetisha Scanlan, James Willett and Tom Grice, while Laura Coles and Paul Adams will line up in men’s and women’s Skeet
“When we walk onto the range, I will have so much confidence in them,” enthused Sammon.
All six athletes have experienced international success and Sammon knows the group has the ability and capability to perform well.
“We are COVID free and have no problem travelling. We do it all the time,” he said.
“It’s going to take them to find their best performance when it matters. If our athletes bring their best then, generally, that will be good enough. You can’t control what other people do in this sport.
“Our team are consummate professionals in everything they do. That’s the difference, I think, between our team and some of the other teams around the world. They are always asking more of themselves and that’s what going to lead them to their success,” he added.
In addition to his role with National teams, Sammon has been instrumental is help secure the future of the discipline through a grant to establish the Performance Pathway program.
“It’s exciting to think we can start working with athletes deeper in our pathway. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s exciting to think where we can take our sport over the next few years,” he said.
And as Sammon now knows so well, the new opportunities for Shooting can come in many guises.