Diamond out of the rough and reloading for Rio
WE ALL know diamonds are forever.
And certainly Michael Diamond's place in Australia's Olympic history will stand the test of time.
Two gold medals in the blue riband men's trap event - in Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) - has him positioned as the country's greatest shooter on sport's biggest stage ... and seemingly content.
"If I never win another medal again, I've been lucky enough to do two very special things in my life," Diamond says from his home in Nelson Bay, near Newcastle.
The competitor in him, however, has him reloading for a record-equalling seventh Games appearance in Rio next August.
Diamond won silver at a World Cup event in Acapulco in March. More good performances in two further World Cup meetings in the next five months, both in Cyprus, and he will earn his ticket to Brazil.
"I'm definitely going again," he says. "I'm 43 years of age ... and I've never felt better."
Both his eyesight and reflexes remain, as they say, as good as gold.
"What does drop off over the years - and I've seen it with most people - once you've been in the sport for so long you lose a lot of drive," he says. "I know with myself that I sometimes find it hard to actually get excited any more. That's a challenge within itself."
But, Diamond, who has also won five Commonwealth gold (two in trap, three in double trap), still gets a rush when the big occasions roll around. "I just love competing at international events," he says.
There's also an element of unfinished business.
"I'm going for gold," he says - a gold that would see him join swimmer Dawn Fraser (100m freestyle) as the only Aussies to have won the same individual event three times at an Olympic Games.
It's an achievement he almost had in his grasp in London in 2012.
Competing at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Greenwich, Diamond was perfectly placed after a perfect start.
Firing his single-barrel shotgun at clay targets travelling almost 100kmh through the air in random directions, he became the first shooter to hit all 125 birds over two days of qualifying at any Olympics.
Despite missing three of his first 20 shots in the six-man final, he still would have been standing atop the dais if he had struck his last five.
But rather than the targets, it was Diamond who was left shattered.
He missed the next two - the first one he uncharacteristically tried to anticipate where the target would be - and found himself in a playoff for the bronze medal, which he ultimately lost to Kuwait's Fehaid Al-Deehani.
"I'd like to forget about that, to be honest with you," he says. "It's not a good thing to remember."
Diamond had been "in the zone". "Never looked like missing," he says.
"But, it's amazing how unforgiving sport can be if you momentarily lapse in your concentration. That's basically what had happened to me."
That agony was a far cry from the ecstasy of those earlier glories.
As a fresh-faced 24-year-old competing in Atlanta, Diamond took on the might of the United States on its home turf and triumphed.
With nerves of steel, he withstood the pressure of performing in front of a patriotic gallery and media throng, both of which were right behind their two local heroes, eventual silver and bronze medallists Josh Lakatos and Lance Bade.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," he says. "The American crowd was amazing … very vocal … cheering after every target.
"Then there was the media. You'd walk from station five back to one, to line up for another five targets and all you could see in your peripheral vision was cameras flashing.
"Having only been to two Olympic Games at that point (the first was in Barcelona in 1992), I found that very distracting.
"Being able to put that out of your mind was the greatest learning curve for me."
Diamond progressed to the final in first place after hitting 124 of the 125 targets, before sealing the first of nine gold medals won by Australia in Atlanta with a flawless 25 from 25.
It was also his country's first success in the sport at the Games since Donald Mackintosh shot the most live pigeons in Paris in 1900.
Diamond would become just the second man after Italy's Luciano Giovannetti to successfully defend the men's trap crown four years later in Sydney, not far from where he grew up in Goulburn.
"To win in your own backyard was incredibly special," he recalls.
Diamond dedicated the victory to his late father, who had died just five months earlier.
"I owe everything to my parents for their foresight," he says.
His father, Constantine, was the "driving force" behind him.
"He bought me an air rifle at the age of six," he says.
A second generation Greek-Australian, 'Con' had managed a gun club where young Michael used to tie a can filled with rocks and dirt to a tree, swing it around and shoot at it. "I used to cut it in half I'd hit it so many times," he says.
Con later encouraged his son to take aim at clay targets, upgrading to a 12-gauge shotgun.
"I broke the very first clay target I shot at … turned it to black powder."
He may soon be having a very last shot at a clay target in an Olympic Games and turning it into gold.
AUSSIES AT SUMMER AND WINTER OLYMPICS
Andrew Hoy (equestrian) 7 (1984-2004, 2012)
Colin Coates (speed skating) 6 (1968-88)
Colin Beashal (sailing) 6 (1984-2004)
Russell Mark (shooting) 6 (1988-2000, 2008-12)
James Tomkins (rowing) 6 (1988-2008)
Michael Diamond (shooting) 6 (1992-2012)