There is a lot of losing that happens along the way to an Olympic medal: Russell Mark
Legendary double trap shooter Russell Mark has a strange connection with Indian shooting. As a competitor he was surprised to see a cluster of Indians suddenly make their mark internationally in the 1990s. Nearly a decade later he was fighting them fiercely on the ranges to protect Australia’s domination in the sport. Soon after, Mark was guiding Indians to Olympic and World Cup medals.
He coached two of India’s finest double trap shooters -- Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Ronjon Sodhi and their success fired up Indian shooting. Mark had a big role in Rathore’s 2004 Athens Olympics silver medal, Sodhi’s World Cup gold medals and the world No.1 rank.
Rathore and Sodhi extracted every ounce of knowledge Mark had from participating in six Olympics, a journey which fetched gold in 1996 Atlanta and silver in Sydney four years later. Double trap has been removed from the Olympics programme but India’s shotgun shooters have been unable to match the success of Rathore and Sodhi. Mairaj Ahmed Khan and young Angad Vir Singh Bajwa managed to qualify for Tokyo Olympics in skeet but there has been no quota in trap.
Mark believes the way to revive shotgun shooting is to throw participants into the deep end. “Don’t be scared of competition. Only competition will get you better. Make sure you try hard and get to the next level,” Mark, 56, said during a webinar on Friday organised by Manav Rachna Educational Institutions.
Mark said he improved because he had a fine competitor in compatriot Michael Diamond -- gold medallist in trap in 1996 and 2000 Olympics. “Diamond came along and it lifted me up at another level. Both gradually learnt from each other and won in 1996 (double trap and trap). It was a six-seven year process,” he said.
“There is a lot of losing that happens along the way to an Olympic medal. Sometimes shooters become very good in practice ranges. I have seen shooters shooting world record scores a day before world cups, but a day later they will be 15 per cent or 20 per cent less. You got to get the technical fundamentals correct to start with,” he says.
“What I don’t like is people who don’t succeed, when they have a bad day in the range, they go about blaming everyone else when it was they who pulled the trigger. Swallowing pride is difficult for a young shooter, but they should learn every day and do better,” he said.
Rathore and Sodhi learnt that way, by sharpening skills against the best in business. “Ronjan was toughened up mentally in difficult conditions he practised and in a few years he was the world’s best shooter. With bit of luck he would have made it to the final of London 2012 Olympics and then who knows what would have happened,” said Mark.
Mark says Rathore was ‘one of the toughest competitors’ he faced.’ “I am very happy to be part of Chilly’s (Rathore) journey. I remember the relief I saw in his face after winning the medal at Athens. It changed the game for Indian shooting. It is nice that I am given the credit of their success but I was just a mentor. They were both incredible competitors.”
“Those two individuals were very different in their technique. Ronjan was technically better. Early on in his career he picked up a couple of little habits and he had to work hard to the point that he became technically really perfect.”
He fondly recollects duels with Rathore in Commonwealth Games competition. The first time he came to know of an Indian shotgun shooter was in 1994 when Mansher Singh won gold in double trap. “In 1994, this young Indian guy -- Joey (Mansher) Singh turned out of nowhere and won CWG gold.”
That filled Indian shooters with self-belief and gradually they were giving Australians competition in shotgun. Rathore won gold in Manchester 2002 (Commonwealth Games), beating Mark. He and Morad Ali Khan also clinched the pairs gold medal, once again leaving Mark and Diamond in second position.
“Chilly (Rathore) I didn’t know him well until Manchester. In pairs event we were one point behind in Indian team and we were like, we will catch up in the last round. But they had a better last round. Two days after, Chilly shot better to beat me in individual event. We started thinking how many Indians are there. People like him made way for Ronjon and others. The pyramid got broader in India.”