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Up to 30 athletes from Sydney University are still in contention to make Australian teams for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Some of these athletes have already turned in qualifying performances or been selected in preliminary squads for the Olympic Games, to be held from August 5-21, and the Paralympics, from September 7-18.

It’s amazing to think that the people we sit next to in class or walk past on campus are also the heroes we will come to watch on television in six months’ time. For many of these heroes, it will be their first Olympic effort, a group of stellar, young individuals who have succeeded in both academia and sport and have long careers ahead of them after dominating their youth tournaments and are just now reaching the world stage.

The size of the Sydney University athlete cohort is so impressive, SU could almost represent at the games as its own country. This medal count methodology was adopted for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and showed that had this actually happened, SU would have finished 37th in its own right.

The recently merged men’s and women’s rowing clubs have plenty of contenders for crews and individual events at Rio. They include male rowers Nick Purnell, Nick Wheatley, Jack Hargreaves, Cam Girdlestone, Hamish Playfair, Kit Cunningham Reid and Sasha Belonogoff, and female competitors Sally Kehoe and Liz Kell. Sydney University is also well represented in Rugby Sevens, with Australian captain Ed Jenkins, Greg Jeloudev, Tom Kingston and Pat McCutcheon being regular members of the Australian squad in the World Series, and Chloe Dalton well established in the Australian women’s Sevens program.

The Ryan family of Will and his twin sisters Sasha and Jaime, could all be in Rio competing in 470 class sailing events. Will has already earned selection, sailing with the defending Olympic gold medalist Mathew Belcher. Table tennis star Kane Townsend is hoping to follow his 2014 Commonwealth Games selection with Olympic selection, while wrestler Richmond ‘The beast from the east’ Saliba, is vying for selection in the 86kg class.

Brendon Reading put his name into the mix for Rio selection when he turned in a personal best and Olympic qualifying standard of 3hr 55.03min for the 50km walk at the national championships in Melbourne. Sydney Uni Flames captain Katie-Rae Ebzery has been a member of the Australian Opals women’s basketball squad’s Rio testing event at the Carioca Arena at the Barra Olympic Park- the arena where the Olympics finals will be held. She was included in the squad as a result of her efforts at the 2015 FIBA Oceanic Championships.

SUAC member Milly Clark qualified for Rio with an impressive run at the TCS Amsterdam Marathon in October. In just her second marathon, Clark finished 3rd to collect the bronze medal. Her scintillating time of 2.29.04, was the second fastest ever by a female from NSW and a top 10 all-time performance by an Australian female. The 26-year-old is completing her undergraduate degree in sport/exercise science along with her master’s degree in nutrition. Two other SUAC members with strong claims for selection for Rio are hurdlers Michelle Jenneke and Nick Hough, who are both on the Elite Athlete Program.

Jenneke (Bachelor of Engineering) finished second in the 100m hurdles in 12.82sec at the 2015 Australian Championships, and third (12.94sec) at the 2015 World University Games in Gwangju. She followed that up by making the semi-finals of the 100m hurdles (13.01sec) at the World Championships in Beijing. Hough (Bachelor of Information Technology, Honours), missed selection in the 2012 Olympic team but made his mark at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where he finished fourth in the final of the 110m hurdles.

Sydney University Lions women’s water polo representatives Keesja Gofers, Hannah Buckling, Lea Yanitsas, Bronte Halligan and Isobel Bishop are all in the 21-strong Australian Stingers Olympic water polo squad. They played in a three-Test series against China in late January and will attend a training camp in Perth, where all players will be given the chance to impress the selectors. The final team of 13 will be selected in June. The Stingers are shooting for another podium finish after their bronze medal at the London Olympics.

Most of the athletes in contention for Rio are, or have been, part of the Elite Athlete Program at Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness. Many are studying at SU, some have graduated and still compete for SU club teams, while several have deferred their studies until after the Games. So, have a look around when you’re next at the gym, or competing in your club game. You could very well be training next to a future Olympic Gold medalist!

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