By Greg Campbell
It’s been 24 years since Deserie Baynes became the second Australian woman to capture an Olympic Shooting medal when she placed third in the inaugural women’s double trap event at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.
But it was a medal the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, 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 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, Annmaree 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 Athens 2004 Olympics women’s trap gold medallist, Suzy Balogh, at the Melbourne 2006 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.
In 2019, 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.
In 2019, 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.
With thanks Shooting Australia.