05.08.2008 – Graham Croker

The selection of Megan “Snowy” Rivers in the Australian women’s hockey team has boosted Sydney University’s representation at the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games to 20.

A Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise and Sports Science) graduate and hockey Blue from Sydney University, Rivers will be attending her first Olympic Games. She has been a regular member of the Australian team since making her debut in 2003.

With 106 internationals under her belt, she has competed at Champions Trophy tournaments in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008.

Her Games selection was cemented following Australia’s five-Test series against Great Britain earlier this year.

Rivers was a key member of the all-conquering Sydney University women’s hockey team that went unbeaten at the Australian University Games from 1999 to 2003. While the Australian men’s team enter the Games as gold medal favourites, the women’s team are also medal chances having won three gold medals from the past four Olympic Games.

During that time the Hockeyroos have also won two World Cups, six Champion Trophies and two Commonwealth Games gold medals.

Rivers has her sights firmly set on a gold medal at Beijing.

Another Sydney University athlete who is pinning his hopes on gold is Australian men’s water polo captain Thomas Whalan, who will be competing at his third Olympic Games.

“I’ve learnt a lot from the last two Olympics, especially how to deal with nerves and not to get too excited about what is happening at the Olympics outside of your competition,” Whalan says.

“It can be very daunting to go to the Olympics for the first time and all of the large crowds and TV cameras and outside distractions that you’re not used to. I’ll use my experience to be a lot more relaxed in Beijing and hopefully be successful.”

Whalan is one of four members of the Sydney University Lions team who will be competing at Beijing. Sydney University team-mates Trent Franklin and Sam McGregor will be attending their second Olympics, while Robert Maitland will be attending his first.

It was a Maitland goal 22 seconds from time that secured a bronze medal for Australia over Montenegro at the recent men’s water polo FINA World League Super Finals in the US. It was the Sharks’ second consecutive World League bronze medal in three straight bronze-medal-final appearances.

Australia are drawn in Group A for the Olympic Games with Spain, Hungary, Montenegro, Greece and Canada.

Another medal contender is wheelchair basketballer Sarah Stewart, who will compete with the Australian Rollers in Beijing. A Sydney University s Sport and Fitness sport scholarship holder and PhD in philosophy, Stewart will be attending her second Paralympics with the Australian Gliders.

And she’s hoping to go one better than the silver medal she received at the Athens Games where the Australians were edged out by the United States in the gold medal match.

“There’s nothing like the night before a gold medal match,” she says.

Another SUSF scholarship holder, Lachlan Renshaw, is peaking at the right time to make his presence felt in Beijing. The Australian 800m track champion finished second in a classy field at a meet in Lignano, Italy, this week.

Although the meet was interrupted by torrential rain and thunderstorms, it didn’t deter Renshaw. Running from lane two, he was forced to jostle for position and settle through 200m in the middle of a tightly controlled pack. The pace built steadily through 400m with Renshaw sitting back in fifth and unfamiliarly boxed in.

Through 600m in the low 1:18s, the field reacted quickly to the front-runner’s stretch for home. The pack opened up and Renshaw timed his move well, making his way through the field to enter the home straight in fourth. He turned on the speed and came home to finish second in a time of 1:46.42s. The race was won by Jonathon Johnson of the US in 1:46.14s, with another American, Brandon Shaw, finishing third in 1:46.64s.

“I felt awesome at 400m and knew that I had a good chance, I just had to get out,” Renshaw said. “This race was a good settler. I’m here to gain race experience and my race fitness is coming through. The conditions were tough, but that can only put me in good stead for what’s ahead in Beijing. I’ve got five weeks until I toe that line. You can be sure that I’ll be ready.”

And yet another SUSF sports scholarship holder, canoeist Robin Bell, is also on target for a medal in Beijing after winning a recent World Cup 3 event in the final of the C1 Augsburg, Germany.

Bell, who had picked up a silver medal at World Cup 1, added the title of World Cup champion to his list of accolades in what capped off an excellent day for the Australian. He led into the final by over a second and a half and negotiated the course with confidence to record a combined time of 203.67, over two seconds clear of Tomas Indruch of Czechoslovakia, with Krzysztof Bieryt of Poland collecting the bronze medal.

“It’s been such a long time coming and I have been close on so many occasions,” Bell said. “It’s great to win one and walking away from the World Cup season with two medals is a good result heading into Beijing.

“The idea of these three World Cups was to get some good race practice ahead of the Olympics and getting the win is a bonus.”

Bell, who finished fourth at the Athens Olympic in 2004, is now one of the favourites for Beijing, along with two-time Olympic champion Tony Estanguet of France and World Champion and 1996 Olympic champion, Michal Martikan of Slovakia.

Other Sydney University athletes who will be competing in Australian teams at Beijing are rowers Liz Kell, Brooke Pratley, Marty Rabjohns, Jeremy Stevenson, Matt Ryan, Frances Hegarty and Terrence Alfred (reserve); Kyla Bremner (wrestling); Lachlan Milne (kayak); Taniele Gofers and Nikita Cuffe (women’s water polo); Alexandra Croak (diving) and Angie Ballard (wheelchair athletics).

Ballard, Gofers, Kell, Croak and McGregor are also SUSF scholarship holders.

Sydney University will also be represented at the Games through Dr. Donna O’Connor (women’s basketball trainer); Dr. Grace Bryant (women’s water polo team physician) Ryan Moar (women’s water polo assistant coach); Dr. Leo Jeffcott (equestrian veterinarian) and alumnus John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee.

Former Sydney University Flames member Belinda Snell, now playing in the US, has also been selected in the Australian women’s basketball team, while Sydney University Swimming Club member Carl Probert has been selected to represent Fiji in the pool.