For Sydney Olympics gold medallist Michael Diamond, the memories of that glorious September twenty years ago are bittersweet.
In winning the third of what would eventually be a then-record 16 gold medals for Australia, Diamond cemented his place in history, defending the title he won in Atlanta four years earlier.
But the two gold medals he sacrificed so much for are no longer in his possession, sold off to pay his bills after a turbulent four years.
What began as a domestic dispute with brother John in May 2016, quickly spiralled out of control after he was pulled over by police and breath tested. Convicted of high-range drink driving, Diamond was also charged with firearms offences after police found a shotgun and 150 rounds of ammunition.
Originally found guilty of not keeping a firearm safe, and using a firearm while under the influence of alcohol, Diamond was axed from Australia’s team to compete in Rio in 2016.
The firearms convictions were quashed on appeal a year later, but it left the six-time Olympian with crippling legal debts.
In 2017, he sold his Sydney gold medal for $72,000, and in 2019, he parted with his Atlanta gold medal for $62,000.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of his Sydney win, and asked to reflect on the occasion, Diamond becomes emotional.
“It’s elation, it’s humbling, and it saddens me,” he tells Wide World of Sports, before breaking down in tears.
“It’s a horrible feeling to have to sell your two Olympic gold medals to pay your bills.
“It’s devastating, to be honest with you, it’s something that I’m not proud of, it’s something that I think about most days, but it is what it is, and I’ve just got to deal with it.”
The Sydney gold medal is especially significant to Diamond, not only because it came in his home country, but due to the fact he won it just months after the death of his father, Con, who introduced him to the sport at the age of six.
The Olympics marked the first time Diamond had competed in a major competition without his father present.
“I was accustomed to pressure, but when Sydney came along, I was really feeling the pinch,” Diamond explained.
“A couple of months prior I lost my dad, so I dedicated those games to my father, and it really made me focus.
“It was a milestone in my career, and it’s a great tribute for my father, and all the hard-earned money he spent to help me, and the fact that I was successful only because of the time and knowledge he gave me,” he added, once again fighting back tears.
“I felt after winning in Sydney I could accomplish anything in my career.”
Then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch famously declared the Sydney Games “the best Olympic Games ever”, and having attended six games, from Barcelona in 1992 to London in 2012, Diamond is well placed to give context to that statement.
“As Tina Turner said, it was simply the best,” he said of the Sydney Games.
“I remember my event had been sold out, which was just amazing. For the country to come out and support the sport of clay target shooting was unbelievable.
“Our event was over on day two of the games, so I went down to Darling Harbour, and it was just electrifying.
“The people, the atmosphere, it was great. You knew that it was a special time, the people really embraced it. It’s only once every 50-odd years that we have such an event in our backyard.”
Diamond remains bitter that he was denied the chance to shoot at a seventh consecutive games in Rio in 2016.
Dumped from the team due to the firearms charges that he was eventually acquitted of, it remains a sore point with the 48-year-old.
“At that point in time, prior to everything unfolding, I was shooting at my best. It was the best of my entire career,” he laments.
“They introduced single barrel shooting, and it took me a long time to get used to it, and I’d been studying it for a couple of years. I went out in about 2014 and trained with nothing but single barrel, and I was as good as anybody in the world.
“I was ready to take on the world at the Olympics in Rio in the single barrel event. Who knows how I would have gone, but I was very confident.”
But if Diamond thought missing Rio was a big deal, it was nothing compared to the health problems that struck in 2019.
Diamond’s heart had all but given up, barely functioning well enough to pump the blood around his body.
Doctors told him that his heart was pumping at just 10 per cent capacity, while his specialist filled out paperwork to get the gold medallist a heart transplant. He was suffering from cardiomyopathy, a condition that caused his heart to enlarge.
Incredibly, even as Diamond wondered how his three daughters would cope without him, a medical miracle was taking place.
“I’m improving now,” he explains.
“I’ve gone from staring down the barrel of a heart transplant, to not needing to have one. My heart function is up to 35 per cent now.
“My specialist is very happy with my progress. He says he’s seen it before, but it’s rare. I just thank God that I’m just one of the rare ones where my heart is improving again.”
His condition meant he was in no state to earn a spot on the Australian team for the Tokyo Games, but less than 12 months after liying on his deathbed, he’s now got his eye on competing at Paris in 2024.
“Absolutely, I have unfinished business,” he says with a note of determination in his voice.
“I need to come back. If I retire after 2024, then so be it, but I haven’t reached my best yet. I really haven’t. I know that. I know what I’m capable of.”
And Diamond admits a big motivation is a desire to earn another gold medal in Paris, one he can keep for himself.
“There’s a lifetime of sacrifices involved in making an Olympics,” he said.
“The trade off to the sacrifice is winning gold medals.
“If I compare myself from Sydney 20 years ago to now, I’m a better person, but I don’t have my Olympic gold medals.”