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Looking back at Beijing 2008


24 July 2012

University of Sydney Olympians display their medals from the Beijing games: (L-R) Nikita Cuffe, Taniele Gofers, Matt Ryan, Robin Bell and Francis Hegerty.
University of Sydney Olympians display their medals from the Beijing games: (L-R) Nikita Cuffe, Taniele Gofers, Matt Ryan, Robin Bell and Francis Hegerty.

The University of Sydney notched up a record before the flame was lit at the 2008 Beijing Olympics: the squad of 20 athletes was - until London 2012 - the University's biggest-ever representation at the world's biggest sporting event.

Seven athletes returned with medals. Olympic rowers Francis Hegerty and Matt Ryan (also competing at London 2012) won silver, while slalom canoeist Robin Bell and water polo players Taniele Gofers and Nikita Cuffe took bronze. Both of the University's Paralympians won medals. Sarah Stewart won bronze with the wheelchair basketball team, while Angie Ballard (also taking part in the London games) won silver in the 4x100m relay.

Away from the spotlight on top-level athletes, a supporting cast of University staff and students were involved as officials or administrators, including Dr Donna O'Connor as women's basketball trainer, and wrestling coach Leonid Zaslavsky. Professor Leo Jeffcott, then dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science, officiated at his sixth Olympics, taking 14 final-year veterinary science students and graduates to assist him in his role as veterinarian to the equestrian events.

On returning to Sydney, the athletes relived some of their personal highs and lows of the Olympics at a Sydney Uni Sport and Fitness 'welcome home' event.

Rowing cox Marty Rabjohns told about his moment of horror when he realised that the piece of string in his hand no longer had any control over the rudder of the Australian men's eight and the boat came close to colliding with the Canadians in the next lane.

Diver Alex Croak recounted how fellow Sydney Uni Olympian Mathew Mitcham entrusted her with his video camera to record his bid to win a medal - and how the batteries ran out just before his historic gold medal-winning final dive. (Hopefully Mitcham's batteries will be fully charged when he goes for gold in London.)

Water polo player Tom Whalan gave an insight into the steely determination of professional athletes, revealing that he played with a fractured eye socket picked up in a warm-up game, but said nothing in case he was targeted by opponents.

But Beijing 2008 was about much more than just sport. The Sydney Conservatorium of Music stepped on to the podium, winning a coveted spot at Beijing's cultural festival in the build-up to the Olympics. A dozen musicians, including Conservatorium students, lecturers and alumni, travelled to take part in the two-week Musicathlon, playing a range of classical and contemporary pieces over two days, including music linking the harpsichord (played by Neal Peres Da Costa) and the didgeridoo (William Barton).


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Enquiries: Andrew Tilley, Sydney Uni Sport and Fitness, 9351 8116, a.tilley@sport.usyd.edu.au