Veteran Australian marksmen Russell Mark, who won gold at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics and a silver medal at the 2000 Games in Sydney, has hailed Indian shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore as one of the ‘toughest competitors’ he has ever faced.
After facing an Indian shotgun shooter for the first time in 1994, when Mansher Singh won the Commonwealth Games gold medal, Russell Mark was surprised to see India’s rapid rise in the discipline.
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore competed against Russell Mark at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, where the Jaisalmer shooter would upstage the Australian in both the double trap events – the individual as well as in pairs alongside Moraad Ali Khan.
“Chilly (Rathore), I didn’t know him well until Manchester,” Russell Mark said during a webinar organized by Manav Rachna Educational Institutions.
“In the pairs event, we were one point behind the 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 the individual event. We started thinking how many Indians are there.
“People like him made way for Ronjan [Sodhi] and others. The pyramid got broader in India,” Russell Mark pointed out.
The 56-year-old Australian international, who has competed in six Olympics, has seen the transformation of India shooting from a contender in the Nineties to a major force in modern times.
And Russell Mark believes Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver medal at the 2004 Athens Games, where he was his coach, played a significant role in the shift.
“I am very happy to be part of Chilly’s (Rathore) journey,” Russell Mark said.
“I remember the relief I saw in his face after winning the medal at Athens. It changed the game for Indian shooting,” he added.
More competition to revive shotgun glory
Apart from Rathore, Russell Mark also coached Ronjan Sodhi, playing a crucial role in taking the Firozpur double trap shooter to the world No. 1 rank in 2011. However, that has been the highest point for Indian shotgun shooters.
Despite the success in the pistol and rifle events through Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar, India has hardly found its shotgun shooters match the calibre of Ronjan Sodhi or Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
While the double trap will not be a part of the Tokyo Olympics, India has only Angad Vir Singh Bajwa who has won a quota place in men’s skeet.
And Mark Russell believes the only way to improve the situation is to see more competitions for the shooters.
“Don’t be scared of competition. Only competition will get you better. Make sure you try hard and get to the next level,” Russell said.
He also cited the example of compatriot Michael Diamond, a gold medallist in trap in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, who made Russell a better marksman.
“Diamond came along and it lifted me to another level. We gradually learnt from each other and won in 1996 (double trap and trap). It was a six-seven-year process,” he said.