Russell Mark did more than just win Olympic, World Championships and Commonwealth Games gold, he put the sport of shooting on the map in Australia with his steady aim and likeable personality – hitting targets on and off the range.
Through six Commonwealth and Olympic Games, including the home Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and Olympic Games in Sydney and his golden Games in Atlanta, Mark was a popular member of the team. From his first appearance in Seoul in 1988 to his swansong at the age of 48 in London in 2012, Mark was an Olympic fixture, so much so that even though he missed selection for Athens in 2004, he still went to the Games as an Athlete Liaison Officer for the Australian Olympic Team.
At the Atlanta Games in 1996 Mark won the gold medal in the double trap, setting a world record of 189 points by hitting 48 of 50 targets in the final round. With the win he became the first shotgun shooter to win all four of the world’s major individual titles – the World Cup, the World Cup Final, the World Championship and the Olympics. When he won silver in the double trap at the Sydney Games, he completed the set of silver medals in all four majors as well.
His Commonwealth Games exploits commenced in Auckland in 1990 and spanned six Games, including his gold medal win in the double trap pairs in Melbourne in 2006, two silvers in Manchester ( double trap singles and double trap pairs) and bronze in Auckland in 1990 in the Olympic trap pairs.
Mark’s exploits will be celebrated at the 35th Induction and Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday 10th October 2019 when he is inducted as an Athlete Member of The Sport Australia Hall of Fame and receives one of the highest honours that can be bestowed in Australian sport.
Mark said the inclusion amongst Australia’s sporting elite is something he would never take for granted.
“It’s not something when you start your sporting career you say your ambition and goal is to be inducted in the Hall of Fame of sport. But once it happens it makes you look back and reflect and it’s a huge honour obviously, but I think without being too much of a cliché it’s probably a great thing for our sport,” Mark said.
It was a near medal miss in Barcelona in 1992, when he didn’t make the final by just two targets, that had a profound impact on the rest of his career.
“I remember thinking how good I was going to look in this golden Holden in Watton Street in Werribee… I missed the next shot, hit the next one and then missed the one after it and immediately lost the gold medal opportunity by two points. I was put in exactly the same position four years later and didn’t make the same mistake. I can honestly say I learnt from my mistakes from the previous Olympics.”
Immediately following the Games, in September 1992, at a major tournament in Tamworth, NSW, Mark became the first Australian to hit more than 1000 targets in succession. He finished the competition with 1177 hits in a row, breaking his own Australian record of 859 set eight months earlier.
“I took it out on everybody in Tamworth that weekend. That was probably an effort out of left field for me but I was so angry with how mentally weak I turned out in Barcelona that I swore I’d learn from it. All I could think of that weekend was Barcelona and I think mentally I became a tougher competitor by losing an Olympic Games and that then allowed me to win one.”
Like the targets he shot at, four years later in Atlanta, the opportunity for redemption wasn’t missed.
“I’d learnt from what happened four years before and I swore I’d never look at the scoreboard until I could hear everyone cheering to know that I was far enough in front that I couldn’t lose. I actually didn’t miss until my 40th shot out of 50 in that final but by then it was over, I ended up winning by a record amount by six points.”
Mark also competed in six Commonwealth Games, winning gold in the Double Trap Pairs at Melbourne 2006, two silver in the Double Trap Singles and Double Trap Pairs at Manchester 2002 and bronze in the Olympic Trap Pairs at the Auckland 1990 Games.
He competed in 22 world championships, winning two individual titles (1994 and 1997) and two team titles (1998 and 1999), as well as six World Cups and 39 Australian Open Championships, the first as a 16-year-old junior competitor when he also set a national scoring record. He had a run of twenty consecutive years from 1988 to 2007 where he won at least one Australian title each year.
“But you’ve got to win the Olympics,” Mark says. “And it’s a mental barrier, the word Olympics changes how small the targets look and how fast they appear to go and that’s truly what happens. Everything is perfect when you get to the Olympic Games – there’s no bad backgrounds, there’s no bad technical issues on the range, everything’s perfect, it really is. Technically it should be the easiest to win but mentally those five rings do strange things to people.”
Mark entered the sport almost by accident as a 14-year-old after suffering a football injury.
“I hurt my ankle at footy training and one weekend had to turn up and watch the guys play at the Sebastopol Recreational Centre because I couldn’t play and behind me there was a guy shooting clay targets,” Mark says.
“My dad had shot a lot of clay targets and said why don’t you have a shot during half time… I went home that night and said I wouldn’t mind having a shot, I’m pretty good at this and it started by accident. I went back and played footy and cricket and never shot for Australia as a junior because I went to university and got a degree but never really got involved in it until 1986 when I tried out for the Australian Commonwealth Games team, missed out, but then made the next handful of Olympics and I ended up going to six.”
“The lure of it being an Olympic sport, I have no doubt saying that’s what got me interested in it. I wanted to go to the Olympic Games, AFL football and cricket wasn’t going to provide that path and I loved the Olympics.”
Mark is just the fourth shooter to be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, joining the late Percy Pavey MBE (1985), Donald Mackintosh (1987) and Judith Trim (1999) to be afforded the honour. Mark says he’s thrilled to join them all, Mackintosh in particular, who was never listed as an Olympic medallist during his lifetime, but in 1987 was declared the gold and bronze medallist from the 1900 Paris Olympics.
“I’d love to be always associated with Donald Mackintosh. Obviously, I’ve never met him but his exploits in the sport, there’s perpetual trophies left right and centre after Donald Mackintosh’s name. He put the sport on the map and when you get your name associated with people like that you can’t be anything but proud.”
Mark credits his father Brian, who passed away in 2009, with his success.
“My father gave me the opportunities. Brian was very keen to make sure I had an education before I followed my sporting goals and made sure I got a diploma in studies at RMIT and got all the boxes ticked away and then he really gave me the opportunity to then try and become an Olympic medallist.”
In 2009 Mark was named by the International Shooting Sports Federation as the greatest ever double trap competitor and one of the top 10 greatest marksmen of all time. The same year he was inducted into the Australian Clay Target Association’s Hall of Fame as its youngest ever member. In 1997 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the sport as a gold medallist at the Atlanta Olympic Games.
Chair of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Selection Committee Rob de Castella AO MBE said: “Russell’s domination in his sport is without peer. Olympics, World Championships, World Cups both individual and teams, he’s done it all, and done it again and again at the highest level for nearly a 25 year period. Just incredible.”
Sport Australia Hall of Fame Chair John Bertrand AO said: “To be recognised as the greatest ever in your discipline by your world governing body is the ultimate accolade. A great both on and off the field.”