SYDNEY (Reuters) - Trap shooter Michael Diamond has experienced the highs of the Olympics, with gold medals in Atlanta and Sydney, as well as the lows.
He suffered disappointment in Athens when a long legal battle affected his chances and he failed to make the final, but the 36-year-old Australian is bubbling with enthusiasm about going to Beijing for what will be his fifth Olympics.
“I am nowhere near done yet. I am still very, very happy with the sport and good within myself,” Diamond told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph shortly after being selected for the team.
Four years ago, Diamond’s bid to join swimmer Dawn Fraser, hockey player Rechelle Hawkes and equestrian Andrew Hoy as the only Australians to win gold medals at three Olympics was derailed even before it began after a drawn-out legal battle.
The saga began a year earlier, in 2003, when Diamond was charged with assaulting his girlfriend and failing to safely store his firearms.
His shooting license was revoked and his shotguns confiscated, preventing him from competing in the first leg of the Australian Olympic trials.
Police returned his license in 2004 when Diamond, a former liquor store worker, was found not guilty of the charges but his absence from the first round of trials meant he had missed selection for Athens.
The Australian Olympic Committee, recognizing that Diamond had not been given a fair chance to qualify, gave him a second opportunity by organizing a three-leg shoot-off with Nathan Cassells, a meat worker and former junior world champion who had finished second in the trials.
Diamond won the shoot-off but Cassells immediately lodged an appeal, arguing that Australian officials had bent their own selection rules.
The appeal was eventually dismissed, allowing Diamond to defend his title in Athens but the saga had taken its toll on him.
He had missed months of vital practice and was badly off target when he arrived in the Greek capital, failing to qualify for the final.
With two gold memories already in his keeping, Diamond might have been tempted to call it quits after the dramas he endured in the leadup to Athens and he decided to take a two-year break.
The rest only fuelled his enthusiasm for the sport, however, and he made a comeback in 2006 and showed he had lost none of his skill by winning the world title in 2007 with a world-record score.
“I have regained that fire. I am shooting against people who are anything between 40 and 60 years of age and they are still in the top 25 of the world,” said Diamond. “That’s significant.
“There is no age limit really. There is no use-by date, which is the beauty of our sport. I love it. There is no way in the near future I will be hanging the gun up.”
Diamond was taught to shoot as a child by his father Con, who coached him throughout his career. A natural marksman with a steady arm and a sharp eye, he quickly excelled in his chosen discipline of clay target shooting, winning his first gold medal in Atlanta in 1996 by hitting 149 of a possible 150 targets.
In Sydney four years later, he hit all 75 targets in his final three rounds, dedicating the victory to his father, who had died four months earlier.
Shooting rarely makes headlines in Australia but Diamond’s success and off-range dramas have kept him in the public eye for the past decade.
Although the decision will not be made until August, Diamond is one of the favorites to carry the Australian flag in the opening ceremony at Beijing, an honor he says would be as good as winning gold.
“I think the highlight of anybody’s career going to this Olympics would be to carry the Aussie flag. That would be something really special,” he said.
“I believe that would be like winning gold in itself, leading an Australian team into a stadium in Beijing.”
Editing by Clare Fallon