On Saturday 14 April, 2018, current SUSF Elite Athlete Program member, Anja Stridsman won the gold medal for Australia in the Women’s 60kg at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, defeating England’s Paige Murney in the final bout.
Anja recalls the exact moment the referee lifted her arm to declare her the gold medallist following a unanimous 5-0 point decision. “As much as I thought it was possible for me to win, I knew that it was a long shot. To have worked so hard, for so long, and overcoming such a major injury in such a short time, it made me feel proud of myself and of my coach, for succeeding where most thought we’d fail.”
Remarkably, just eight months prior to winning a gold medal for her country, Anja tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while competing in Poland. The debilitating knee injury – all too common in competitive sport – threatened to derail not only Anja’s Commonwealth Games campaign, but her ability to even qualify.
“I keep saying that throughout this journey, so many times, I was faced with the choice to either give up or to keep fighting. I obviously chose to keep fighting.” Her ultimate victory at the Games followed two dominant performances against India’s Sarita Devi in the quarterfinal and New Zealand’s Troy Garton in the semi, where Anja proved herself as a voracious force in the ring.
“Although I wasn’t able to fight at 100%, in qualifying for, or at the actual Commonwealth Games, I think that attitude is what made it possible for me to pull this whole thing off despite all odds.” Anja qualified for the Games without her ACL, having the replacement surgery before rigorous rehab in the few months between trials and the event proper.
“By no means was it easy,” she said. “My knee kept giving way on me whenever I escalated training, and as we got closer to nationals in November, I still hadn’t been able to spar. After my first and only spar before qualifying, we made the decision to fight to go to the Games.”
Anja’s story is a truly triumphant one, but the elusive gold medal does not mark the end of her pursuit of success in her sport. She has her sights set on the World Championships in New Delhi at the end of the year, plus the event qualifiers in late-July, which means training will now intensify.
“Training varies; anything between 6-12 sessions per week with Sundays off,” she said. “Mornings are for strength and conditioning and afternoons are boxing-based, doing partner work; drills or sparring. The afternoon sessions can go for an hour and a half to sometimes almost three hours. It’s generally a very high workload and pace, so it leaves little energy for other things.”
Except Anja is completing a Bachelor of Arts & Bachelor of Economics degree at the University of Sydney, having joined the Elite Athlete Program in 2018. “Choosing to do full-time study at this time in my life and also having to work means I have to use my time really efficiently,” she said. “It’s not necessarily the sport and study that is difficult to balance for me so much as life in-between.”
Study is clearly no chore for Anja who says she has a passion for learning. “I want to be able to take part in conversations about the world we live in, as well as take responsibility for my role in it.
I study to improve my own person and allow myself to continue growing,” she said. “My subjects are all so different, but so relevant. I can apply a lot of what I’m studying to the world around me which makes it even more interesting.” Despite being focused on completing her degree and the upcoming World Championships, representing Australia and winning gold at the Commonwealth Games remains a poignant and proud memory for Anja.
“Being a part of team Australia as a whole, not just the boxing team but as a country; both para and able-bodied athletes competing together – with basically the whole stadium backing you – was truly special. It’s something that will stay with me for a very long time.”
ATHLETE SCOOP SEVEN MEDALS AT GC2018
Anja Stridsman, Nicholas Hough, Angela Ballard, Enid Sung, Nicola McDermott, Katie-Rae Ebzery and Belinda Snell.
These seven athletes won medals representing Australia at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. They’re also current or former members of the Elite Athlete Program, and students or graduates of the University of Sydney.
The seven medals won by these athletes, three gold, three silver and one bronze – across four disciplines – contributed to Australia’s medal count of 198.
The most success was seen on the athletics track at Carrara Stadium with Nicholas Hough finishing 3rd in the 110m Hurdles with a PB of 13.38 to take bronze. On the same night, Angela Ballard finished 2nd (3:36.85) to win silver in the Women’s T54 1500m. Four days later, Nicola McDermott won bronze in the Women’s High Jump, recording a PB of 1.91m.
With 13 Sydney University Athletics Club representatives competing at the Games, the track and field program saw athletes produce a plethora of other outstanding results.
- Michelle Jenneke finished 4th in the Women’s 100m Hurdles final.
- Angus Armstrong finished 5th in the Pole Vault final, clearing 5.35m.
- Anneliese Rubie finished 3rd in the Women’s 400m semi, running a PB of 51.51 to qualify for the final. In the final, she finished 7th. A few days later, in the Women’s 4x400m, Rubie and team ran a SB to finish 5th.
- Madeline Hills finished 8th in the 10,000m and 10th in the 5,000m. Hills also made news for a tremendous act of sportsmanship on day five, where she and two other Australian runners waited for the last competitor to finish the 10,000m before leaving the field, cheering her on as she finished.
- James Nipperess finished 9th in the Men’s 3,000m Steeplechase.
- Larissa Pasternatsky finished 4th in the Women’s 200m semi.
- In the 400m hurdles, Ian Dewhurst finished 3rd in his heat with 49.84, just missing out on the final.
- In the men’s 100m, Rohan Browning finished third in the semi with a time of 10.29 however missed out on the event final by 0.001. Joshua Clarke missed out on the semi, clocking 10.56 in the heats. Both athletes also raced in the Men’s 4x100m relay, running a SB of 38:58 to finish 4th, just outside the medals.
- In the men’s 800m, Josh Ralph narrowly missed out on the final, finishing 3rd in his heat. In the 4x400m, Ralph and the Australian team finished 3rd with a final auto-qualification (3:04.22) to be given a DQ.
Outside of Carrara Stadium, Enid Sung performed exceptionally in the Rhythmic Gymnastics to win another medal for Australia. She scored a total score of 47.450 to qualify for the Individual All-Around final. This score also saw her and Australian teammates, Danielle Prince and Alexandra Kiroi-Bogatyreva win bronze in the Rhythmic Gymnastics Team final, producing a combined score of 120.800.
Sung came painfully close to claiming her second medal in so many days, finishing the Individual All-Around final with 50.725 points, 0.775 points off third place. In the individual apparatus finals, Enid Sung finished 4th in the hoop final, 8th in clubs and 6th in ribbon.
The Australian Opals, with Brydens Sydney Uni Flames Captain, Belinda Snell, Katie-Rae Ebzery and Coach, Cheryl Chambers, had a flawless campaign to win the gold medal for Australia in women’s basketball. The game was Snell’s last for Australia after announcing her retirement from international competition, having played 159 games in the green and gold.
Kane Townsend was part of the Australian table tennis team that defeated Kiribati, Scotland and Sri Lanka. While these strong performances saw the team progress to the quarterfinal, they fell to Nigeria, 3-1. In the Men’s Doubles, Kane and David Powell were beaten by a Singaporean duo, 3-0, unfortunately marking the end of Kane’s campaign.
Sarah Roy finished 5th in the Women’s Road Race, maintaining a top-five position through each split and throughout the entire 112.2km circuit.
Also in the cycling, Ashlee Ankudinoff, member of the former NSWIS Sydney Uni Road Cycling Team, won gold in the Women’s 4,000m Team Pursuit.