ANYTHING felt easier for Russell Mark then shooting at the Sebastopol range.
While perceptions about Ballarat's notorious windy and cold conditions get old - particularly fuelled when the weather seems to turn nasty on AFL match days - these proved a baseline for Mark.
Such conditions were a challenge Mark accepted, saying Sebastopol Gun Club and the too often howling winds were a pivotal part of his sporting success because everywhere else he shot felt "easy" in comparison.
Mark, who won the double trap gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and silver four years later in Sydney, represented Australia at six Olympiads - equestrian rider Andrew Hoy is the only Australian to have been to more Olympic Games. It is a feat almost levelled by Ballarat rower Anthony Edwards, who rowed in five Olympics.
With gold in Atlanta. Mark also became the first shotgun shooter to win the Grand Slam equivalent in his sport: Olympic, world cup, world cup final and world championships titles.
But Mark also says it was more than Sebastopol Gun Club that provided the foundations for his career. In a town that "revolved around sport", Mark said he felt just as much a part of Brown Hill cricket and East Ballarat football (now East Point).
Mark continues to hold this city's sporting culture in great respect in his return to mark the 60th anniversary of Ballarat Sportsmen's Club, having won the club's prestigious sportsperson of the year award six times and its junior title in 1979.
And yet, having long now been an out-of-towner based in Werribee, Mark's official appearances in Ballarat remain rare. He still feels there are those who are "more Ballarat" deserving of the city's attention.
About 20 years ago ahead of the Sydney Olympics, Mark was asked to light a mini-cauldron with the Olympic torch at City Oval - Ballarat being one of only two Australian Olympic cities before Sydney, this was a special honour.
Mark managed to convince marathon runner Steve Moneghetti to join him in lighting the cauldron before a 15,000-strong crowd. This was ahead of what was to be Moneghetti's last elite race in green-and-gold.
"I felt uneasy lighting the flame. I looked at Mona - he didn't want to at all - but I thought it was a good thing and I think everyone understood that's what I was trying to do," Mark said.
"There's a guy who might not have won an Olympic medal, but I thought that night, he's a guy who's done more for Ballarat sport in what he's achieved and what he does in Ballarat."
The pair shared a platform before the sportsmen's club on Wednesday night with Ballarat's most decorated female basketball export, Olympic bronze medallist Robyn Maher, and Olympic swimming gold medallist Shayne Reese.
For the first time in the club's 60-year history, there was no sportsperson of the year awards but the panel was an incredible tribute to this city's rich sporting culture. Not to mention the wealth of more Olympians and decorated sporting administrators in attendance.
This is what drew Mark back to a club. He felt proudly part of the club's tradition, clearly remembering when he won the junior sportsperson of the year.
Should Tokyo Olympics go ahead in July, Mark will be back on the world stage as a commentator. He knows this will be vastly different from any Olympics or world competition he has experienced.
Most shooters in the northern hemisphere are unable to access shooting ranges under pandemic restrictions. Many Australian contenders are plotting how to best prepare for competition with limited lead-in events. It is a vast contrast to when Mark was at the top of his game, typically travelling for most of the year.
Mark said innovation in training would be key for competitors not knowing quite what they would be up against. He doubted competition would be as high a usual and said it was unlikely world records would fall, but this was an Olympics and every athletes had faced unprecedented extra challenges to reach Tokyo.
But there would be one irreplaceable missing element.
"There'll be no family on the ground to see it," Mark said. "For a lot of parents, this is their Olympics too."
It is vital for communities to support and see their athletes on what is arguably the world's biggest sporting stage too. Ballarat does this so well - and great to know our athletes feel this too.
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.