A team united … and inspired

Published 4 August 2016 (AEDT)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 03: Australian Beach Volleyball player Louise Bawden poses with Australian Cyclist and Flagbearer Anna Meares after the Australian Olympic Team Inspire Session at the Olympic Village on August 3, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. © 2016 Getty Images

It was the last part of the Olympic Trilogy before perhaps the most amazing chapter in the lives of our 421 athletes begins – Rio 2016.

Part one of Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller’s ‘One Team’ doctrine was called ‘Ignite’, part two was tagged ‘Aspire’.

Today, the only formal one all-team gathering of the Australian team was called ‘Inspire’.

And it sure did.

As Chiller so eloquently said: “We are all now in the one family, we are all now in the one team … a 120-year old team.”

Olympian swimmer and now-television personality Giaan Rooney introduced the session, attended by athletes, coaches and officials. After a video and photographic montage of Australia’s history as the only nation, with Greece, to participate at every Games since 1896 in Athens, there was a video message from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, then addresses from Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC, the team’s captain Anna Meares and the team’s leader in Chiller.

Rowing pictogram

Ignite, the opening session of the three-part two-year program to build the Australian ‘One Team ‘values, was designed to the start of the Australian Olympic Committee’s “what to expect” program. It involved Olympians from the past decades sharing their experiences and memories. Aspire involved the operational aspects about their upcoming experience. Inspire was to leave the Aussie team with a clear perspective of what they were about to embark on.

Of the Australian team, 272 are at the Olympic Games for the first time. Among them is Tia Clair-Toomey.

Recently named the second fittest woman in the world for her cross-fit exploits, her road to Rio began less than two years ago when she decided to concentrate on weightlifting. The Queenslander from Gladstone comes here as the sole female in the smallest team (by numbers, with two, equal with modern pentathlon).

Yet she walked out of the Chef de Mission Hall feeling far from alone, and – as a 58kg package of power - a giant in her own eyes.

“Hearing from the speakers of how proud and happy they are just makes you realise how important it is that all the sacrifices and everything you’ve done to get here has really been noticed,” she said.

“It was just so rewarding to feel the appreciation others have for you.

“When Anna Meares said she might be a small person but when she puts in the green and gold it makes her feel like she is six feet tall … it was so inspiring for me.

“Being a small person like myself I know that, in weightlifting, you might not be the strongest or the tallest or the biggest athlete but knowing you have that backing and support from your whole country and fellow competitors is so rewarding and motivating.

“You do feel as though you are on top of the world and anything is possible. I found it quite emotional today.”

Rooney, Chiller and Meares have all lived the Olympic experience.

Rowing pictogram

Sir Peter Cosgrove never has. His field of competition has been the military battlefield.

The analogy of war and sport is overused.

Yet the parallel he cited, of soldiers in battle relying on day after day, often before daybreak itself, of repetitious rehearsal for their moment of reckoning resonated with the gathering of athletes.

“The thing we drill into them is the repetition of excellence in the heat of battle, under the most extreme stress,” he said.

“These young men and women go back to their training and produce something excellent.

“This is your moment [to replicate that]; this is the opportunity … these Rio Olympics is, for you, your time to show not only your teammates but all of Australia that you are that most prized person, a champion repeating champion performances.

“The millions and millions of words spoken or written … by officials, families, politicians, colleagues, governor general … are fast coming to an end. But now what you, and all your colleagues and all the officials want - are deeds.”

Chiller has long preached the need for a “one-team mantra”. She describes “a united team, a supportive team, a respecting team”.

“I want you all to know how very proud that I am of you all,” the Chef de Mission said. “And how very proud I am to see the camaraderie and the spirit, the support, and the respect that already exists in our One Team.

“Let’s keep drawing on each other, because in this Olympic environment support for each other is everything.”

Georgia Baker, from the little Tasmania team of Perth, is another Olympics first-timer, part of the women’s team pursuit in cycling.

She’s lucky in that she gets the chance to observe and watch gold medal champion Meares every day. But she said that to witness her idol so measuredly and succinctly portray how privileged she felt to again go through pain and sacrifice to be there at that moment gave her goose bumps.

She did not know what to expect as the wave of green and white striped jackets filtered into that room. She left in no doubt what it meant to have the right so wear that uniform.

“It is so motivating and super exciting to be in this environment,” she said. “It is something I will never ever forget. It was very, very special.”

Neil Cadigan

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