Sydney University will be represented by 35 athletes and a team manager at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, starting on July 23. That number may grow when the Paralympic team is announced.
And there a plenty of medal chances in individual and team events, including Nicola McDermott in the women’s high jump and Rohan Browning in the men’s 100m.
McDermott, a Bachelor of Science student and Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness Elite Athlete Program member, recently posted her best jump, at a Diamond League meet in Stockholm, where she cleared 2.01m, literally putting her up there with the best in the world. Her Australian teammate and friendly rival Eleanor Patterson was third at the Diamond League meet.
Her future in the sport was determined at a young age at a school athletic carnival. “When I look back, I guess most eight-year-olds are not thinking about one day jumping two metres in the high jump,” she says. “But back then I was tall for my age, and I had these long legs. My parents put me through a lot of different sports as a child. I had tried swimming, surf lifesaving and tennis and I was useless.
“But it was a school athletics carnival that determined my future. I won pretty much every event that day. Dad then took me to Little Athletics and high jumping became my sport. I loved jumping over the bar and landing on a mattress. I was nine years old when I jumped 1.36m at the NSW Little Athletics Championships and that’s been in my memory bank ever since.”
Nicola said achieving PBs every year has been a team effort, starting with her coach Matt Horsnell, who has kept her focussed and ensured the enjoyment in the sport is not lost. “He’s an inspiration,” she said. “Matt and I are good mates and on the same wavelength. He’s very laid back about the way I train and approach events but we’re very determined individuals so we don’t cut corners.
“Matt always had a 10-year plan for me. We were never in a rush and that has allowed me plenty of time to progress. He is always willing to learn and will talk high jump all day. He is passionate, encouraging and so humble. It is impossible not to be motivated by him.”
Fellow Sydney University Athletics Club member, Rohan Browning, booked a berth to the Tokyo Olympic Games with a blistering 100m sprint at the Queensland Track Classic in March.
The 23-year-old Law student covered the distance in 10.05 seconds to become the third-fastest Australian man over 100m, behind Patrick Johnson (9.93 in 1993) and Matt Shirvington (10.03 in 1998) and the first to qualify for the Olympic event since Josh Ross in 2004.
Browning, also a member of Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness’ Elite Athlete Program and a University Blue, edged out New Zealand’s Edward Osei-Nketia (10.12) and Tasmania’s Jack Hale (10.33).
He had been threatening to post a fast time after he became the second Aussie to break the 10-second barrier when he won the Illawarra Track Challenge on 9.96 seconds at Wollongong in January this year. That time couldn’t be used for Olympic qualification because it was wind-assisted to the tune of +3.3m per second — 1.3m per second above the allotted limit.
Chasing 10.08 in Brisbane for automatic Olympic qualification, the Andrew Murphy-coached sprinter’s form held true. “It’s been the time I’ve been chasing all year,” Browning said. “I had a taste of sub-10 this year but doing that gives me the confidence I can do it legally. I was really happy with that run.”
Browning first came to notice as a 16-year-old when he ran 10.18sec competing in the 4x100m relay at the 2017 London World Championships. “Running 10.18 in front of a big crowd, off very little training, gave me a taste of the highs of success in track and field,” he said. “It made me realise how much more work I could do to improve.”
He also represented Australia at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, finishing ninth in the semi-finals of the 100m with a time of 10.26sec. The Tokyo Olympics have been his aim since then.
McDermott and Browning are among 12 SUAC members off to the Games, the others being Anneliese Rubie-Renshaw, Catriona Bisset (dual MU Athletics Club member) Liz Clay, Jenny Blundell, Mackenzie Little, Alexander Beck and Nicholas Hough.
Sydney University Athletics Club’s Dean Gleeson is off to Tokyo as manager of the Modern Pentathlon team, alongside Ed Fernon and Marina Carrier.
Sydney University rowers will also be well represented at Tokyo, with Rowena Meredith, Genevieve Horton and Tara Rigney in the women’s squad and Alexander Purnell, Jack Hargreaves, Cameron Girdlestone, Nick Purnell and Jack O’Brien in the men’s squad. Campbell Watts is a reserve, while Harriet Hudson is a student at the University but not a club member.
Sydney University Water Polo Club will be fielding multiple athletes at the Games, with Keesja Gofers, Hannah Buckling and Matilda Kearns in the Stingers squad and Anthony Hrysanthos, George Ford and Goran Tomasevic in the Sharks. Gofers and Buckling will be attending their second Games, having represented at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.
Others off to the Games are Murray Stewart and Simon McTavish (Canoe – Sprint), Will Ryan and Jaime Ryan (Sailing), Emma Jeffcott (Tritathlon), Greta Hayes (Hockey), Tsuneari Yahiro (Karate), Katie Rae Ebzery (Basketball) and Rayna Buckle (Artistic Swimming).