Video: Commonwealth Games legend Michael Gault returns to Dereham with his 18th medal
Archant © 2014
Shooting legend Michael Gault has returned home to Dereham with the hard-won medal that finally equalled a Commonwealth Games record – and resolved the “unfinished business” which had taunted him for four years.
Michael Gault’s all-consuming desire to rewrite the sporting history books began as a “niggle” – a gnawing regret following an unfamiliar failure with his pistol.
And after falling agonisingly short of a record-equalling 18th Commonwealth Games medal four years ago in Delhi, the memories of a gloating rival coach became increasingly difficult for the Dereham marksman to stomach during his premature retirement.
That feeling of unfinished business grew so toxic that it affected his health, so his ever-supportive family agreed that he should give the record one more shot.
Now all that pressure has finally been released as the 60-year-old put his feet up at his Toftwood home yesterday wearing the medal which means he can at last retire from international competition – properly, this time – in the knowledge that he has reached his life’s goal.
Mr Gault’s bronze medal, won in the 10m air pistol event at Glasgow this weekend, makes him the joint most decorated Commonwealth sportsman of all time.
And he revealed that the catalyst for his extraordinary success started with that hollow feeling in 2010.
“I was retired for about a year and then I had a little illness, which made me realise that I probably retired a bit early, and I wasn’t ready,” he said. “It was stress-related and when I look back at the reasons, it was partially because the job was not done. I had unfinished business.
“I had been in a shoot-off for a medal place in India, but I lost it. The Australian coach came over to me and said: “What shame, you didn’t get it.” I was gutted, and it was my fault because I didn’t hit the 10. It was in my control, but I didn’t do it.
“Nerves can get you like that. If you are not in control you are like a coiled spring, and the shot goes where you didn’t want it to go.”
After three years of preparation and countless hours of practice, a repeat performance in Glasgow would have been shattering. But any thoughts of failure were banished with the help of performance coach Jeremy Lazarus.
Mr Gault said: “I do this thing called mental rehearsal. I was laying in bed, picturing myself on the winning platform, picturing where I wanted to be. You can get a fear of winning and that can blow you away just the same as a fear of losing.
“Then I took it back a step into the final. The worst thing is to come fourth, so I pictured myself in the top four and then firing the two shots that would get me the bronze. When I was on the firing point for real, it felt as if I had done it all 10 or 15 times before – my brain was programmed and I fired two half-decent shots when I needed to.”
After his return to Norfolk, there was an unmistakable air of fulfilment as Mr Gault slipped on a pair of slippers and supped a mug of tea, away from the glare of the world’s sports media. That relaxation will be short-lived, as he is due back at work at RAF Marham today , where he looks after test equipment for Tornado bombers.
He said he could not have achieved his success without the support of his work colleagues, and particularly his family.
He dedicated his most recent medal success to the Parkinson’s Society, to help raise the profile of the illness from which his wife Jan suffers.
Mrs Gault said the expense of international competition meant she was never able to travel to far-flung places like Malaysia and Australia to see her husband win his medals.
But she never resented the time apart. “It always gave me a chance to tidy up!” she said. “I suppose if he was not as good, it would be different. But he is at the top of the tree, so how can you stop him?”
Mr Gault’s 35-year-old daughter Clare Barnes was with her mother to watch the medal-winning performance in Glasgow.
She said: “We are very, very proud. When he came back from the last Games and didn’t achieve it, we saw a change in Dad. We felt it too, because we knew how much it meant to him. It is something we have wanted for him since day one.
“It was a goal that not just he had tried to achieve, but one that we as a family have tried to help him achieve. The fact that he has now done it makes it all worthwhile.”
Looking to the future, Mr Gault said he would love the chance to coach the England shooting team, and his wife fancies a long-overdue trip “somewhere exotic”.
Mr Gault said: “I have heard about these things called holidays, which other people seem to enjoy. I think we shall do that.”