Sydney's golden campaign in London

The brand new revelations from our Olympians on the stories behind their success.

Image of athletes on stage

When rower Brooke Pratley was selected for London 2102, she was one of three athletes from her tiny town of Crookwell, population almost 2000, near Goulburn in the Southern Tablelands of NSW, who was eligible to compete at the Olympics.

One of the trio had to pull out due to injury but when Pratley and the other athlete flew off to London, the town went wild, she says. “Every shop on the main street had photos of the two of us in the windows. People came up to my parents and gave them cards, with money inside.

“When I got back home, there were cards with $1500 in cash waiting for me,” says Pratley, who won a silver medal in women’s rowing double sculls.

Brooke Pratley’s charming story was just one of many told by Sydney’s London Olympians to an exuberant celebration lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney’s Rocks area last Friday.

The ‘Blue & Gold’ Olympic Celebration event featured 20 of the University’s 24 competitors from London, and a host of other Sydney Olympic legends from the 1960s to the present day. They included Jane Flemming, who came 7th in the heptathlon in Seoul in 1988, and Peter Montgomery, a four-time water polo Olympian from the 1970s and 80s.

On the way in to the lunch, diver Matthew Mitcham, who won gold in the 10m event Beijing and was a semi-finalist in London, told SAM that he was back in training and had switched to the springboard as it was “less explosive” and easier on the body.

Inside the room, after the athletes were introduced, the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, told the excited crowd how proud the University was of their achievements. “You have demonstrated that our excellence is academic, cultural and sporting. “You have also shown that we can do it as well here as they can anywhere in the world.”

Image of Pratley, Whalan and Stewart with the MC

Image of Pratley, Whalan and Stewart with the MC

Murray Stewart, a member of the gold-winning Men’s 1000m K1 kayak foursome, revealed that he been suffering from a sinus and chest infection at the time, something not known publicly during competition but the squad’s sense of support and medical care helped him overcome the illness to make his place in the team that won gold.

Among other speakers at the lunch, men’s water polo team member, Thomas Whalan, also a veteran of four Olympics, revealed that his highlight was when the team beat Greece in a physical encounter to advance to the next stage. Every member played to the best of their abilities, he told the audience, and the victory was made all the sweeter because the Sharks, as they are known, had played Greece in a pre-Games training camp which ended up with a brawl between the two teams in the pool.

Jessica Fox, who won silver in the women’s K1 kayak slalom, and Kaarle McCulloch, who won bronze with Anna Meares in the women’s cycling team sprint, both acknowledged the support of the University in helping them find a balance between their studies and sporting schedules. Fox, 18, deferred the second semester of her Arts degree while McCulloch raised a laugh when she admitted that she started her Bachelor of Education in 2006 – and was still not finished.

Kaarle McCulloch with former Olympian Peter Hadfield

Kaarle McCulloch with former Olympian Peter Hadfield

The laughs turned to gasps when McCulloch recounted her parents’ experience in trying to watch their daughter compete at the Velodrome, where the intensity of the crowd raised the noise level to 116 decibels (a Jumbo Jet is 120 decibels), and “for the first time in my life, I was shaking on the bike”.

Her parents had to pay $3000 a ticket to see their daughter ride. The tickets were sold out in five minutes and they missed out, leaving them nervous about whether they would be able to get trackside. Worse was to come as the English fans sitting in front of them started abusing McCulloch’s parents when they realised who they were. The fans were eventually arrested and carted away by police, leaving a mountain of empty beer cans under the seats.

Jessica Fox discussed how she had rowing in her blood, as both her parents competed internationally, in Olympics, her mother for France and father for England. Fox described meeting a Russian kayaker who had actually competed against her mother in 1996, when her mother’s career was tapering off and the Russian’s was starting to blossom. “It was as if the baton had been passed on from my mother to her, and now from her to me,” she said.