As I reclined back my business class chair – one of the amazing perks of winning a gold medal – on our flight home from Rio, I took a moment to myself to reflect on what I had just been a part of.
All that comes to mind is what the hell just happened? Is this even real life? I can’t believe we had already been to the Olympics, played, won a gold medal, celebrated, supported like crazy, celebrated some more, ate buckets loads of McDonalds nuggets and now get to sit on a business class flight home and it’s all over. What an amazing and unforgettable experience … just wow!
I can’t begin to describe how it feels to have been at an Olympics and now be able to call myself an Olympian. Crazy, surreal and amazing all come to mind but they don’t even do the experience justice.
It is truly an honourable experience like no other and I still don’t count myself as part of the whole Olympic family as yet. I think the idea of our team now being the gold medal heroes or champions that we have grown up watching will definitely be something I don’t think I will get used too.
The one thing we have all said to each other though is that once the tournament started, it didn’t feel any different to any other tournament we have played.
The hype surrounding the Olympics is crazy in the build-up. The many messages of good luck, the media commitments, the new uniform and then the chaos of living in an Olympic village, are just some of the things that we experienced along the way and made the build up to the tournament different.
Once we got to the field though, settled in, warmed up and belted out our ‘Chicken Fried’ song things felt very much the same. A relief for our nervous selves I’m sure.
WORLD'S BEST FANS
When we ran out for our first game against Colombia we ran directly towards the best supporters crew in the world – ours! Everyone in our team was so lucky to have a member of her family travel all the way over to Rio to watch. Running towards a sea of green and gold with their personalised supporters’ shirts in the Olympic green and gold for the first time was pretty amazing.
I couldn’t help but smile and look around for my family and boyfriend amongst the crowd. I was trying to run out serious and remain focused but looking up and hearing the Aussie crew erupt I couldn’t help but be beaming with pride for what was about to happen.
A special mention must go to Chloe Dalton’s family, in particular her two brothers who were instrumental in the boisterous cheers and getting fans from every different nation to join the Australian bandwagon come game time.
Seeing our families and friends after each game you could just tell they were having the time of their lives, one of the main reasons you live for playing in front of them. It doesn’t get much better than doing that at an Olympic Games.
Our first two games went exactly to plan. We were diligent in executing our attack and ruthless in defence. We wanted to start with a strong message and show other teams we were here for one thing and one thing only. Walshy (coach Tim Walsh) would say to us “there is a gold medal dangling above your defensive try line and they (the opposition) are trying to come get it off you. Protect it like hell and if you stop them from getting to the line they won’t take your gold medal away from you”.
Game three didn’t quite go to plan. From the first touch seeing Ellia Green take a very heavy head knock rattled us. She is a beast; so strong and dangerous with her running ability so to see her down like that was tough. USA capitalised on our moments of vulnerability and indecision and before we knew it we were behind and fighting like hell to not let the game slip.
Jessie Javelet, or JJ as everyone knows her, was dangerous with her pure speed. A credit to our pure hate of losing to claw our way back though and the calm and accurate kicking of Chloe to draw the game after the siren.
We were through to the finals and we had our kick up the bum that we needed. I always find that tough close games in the pool stages are a great way to figure out what is going to win or lose you the games that matter in the finals.
Another quarter-final versus Spain with us back playing to our full potential set up an epic semi-final against Canada on day three. We were still annoyed about our loss against them in France and had done so much homework since then.
We knew we were ready and more than happy to get our shot at redemption in a semi-final with the winner going through to an Olympic final and guaranteed one of the first ever women’s sevens Olympic medals.
As history would have planned we made the final and were set to face New Zealand. It was only fitting that the two dominant teams over the last two years, and NZ even longer before then, were through to the final.
I can normally remember play-by-play what happens after games, but the Olympic final was a huge blur. All I knew was that we had won. I kept repeating to myself “we have done it”. I had dreamed it, believed it and lived it for so long and for it to finally happen was so surreal and so unbelievable. A far-fetched dream five years ago had become a reality.
The moments after the game were incredible. Screaming, crying, hugging, climbing into the crowds, huge congratulatory embraces and fist pumps for days. We were Olympic gold medallists! The best moment of my life. They were cut short momentarily as we had to rush back to our change room to change into our podium outfits. Happily cut off as we realised we had to go and actually receive our medals.
The adrenaline and sweat hadn’t stopped pouring out of us as we tried to rush to get ready. A quick hair fix and group hug and we were back out on the field walking toward the podium, our family, friends, fans and our destiny.
What unfolded over the next couple of hours was seriously the coolest and most memorable time of my life. Hearing all my team-mates’ names called out and seeing them receive their medals gave me goose bumps. I have never been so proud of them all to receive the highest award for all their hard work, sacrifice and guts put into our team and this campaign over the years.
Hearing my name called out though was crazy. The extra special cheer from my family, boyfriend and my four best friends from high school who had made a promise eight years ago to come watch me if I ever made the Olympics for something was phenomenal. I don’t think there are enough adjectives to ever describe how that felt and how special it was and always will be to me.
The medal was heavier than I ever imagined. When it was put over my neck I had to fight back a huge lump in my throat to even say thank you. I was caught on TV just starring at it, in total disbelief the last 20 minutes had even happened.
We spent over an hour hugging and taking photos with our families, enjoying some celebratory drinks with our family and friends at the field before we returned to the change room and belted out 'Hold back the river' and ‘Chicken Fried’ one last time. We smacked down the walls, screamed our lungs out and squeezed each other tight. A crazy cool bond we will share with each other for life.
The celebrations continued into the night, with everyone loving the fact our ‘ripped for Rio’ dieting was over and we had free reign on whatever we ate and drank again. We also loved the fact Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver put on a bar and food tab for all our Aussie contingent and supporters. He has been a big advocate for us over the years and knew we could win gold for our country.
REALISING OUR POTENTIAL
Speaking of big advocates, I cannot thank Walshy, Scotty, Craig, Johnny and Claire enough for our prep leading into Rio and while we were away. Walshy, Scotty and Craig in particular have been the boy’s club trio from the start that stuck with us, put up with our whinging day in, day out and pushed us to our potential – a potential they knew and believed we could achieve.
We butt heads at times but we also have the best times all together and at the end of the day we all know we would have sucked without them. Walshy did promise us a trip to Vegas if we won and he also made a bet with Vani (Evania Pelite) that he would also get his nipple pierced. I can’t wait to see both of those promises kept!
I only watched the replay of our final game two weeks after it actually happened. I just wanted to savor the moment for as long as I could before I analysed what we could improve on or have done better. Every time we scored I cried. I sat on the plane crying my eyes out. So happy seeing it again and reliving that moment. I feel like I will cry for a long time watching that.
We were physical like they said we wouldn’t be, we were smart where we needed to be, we executed our plan as well as we needed too and we still made errors and gave away opportunities. Emilee Cherry was a brick wall in defence and Charlie (Charlotte Caslick) was our go-forward and class.
Everyone did their job, everyone aimed up for each other and even when things went to pot everyone stood up and helped their mates out. It was inspiring to watch and hard to believe I was a part of it.
Seeing the devastating scenes for New Zealand afterwards though was hard to watch. Portia Woodman is all class. Our whole team has huge respect for her as a competitor and a person off the field. We all genuinely felt for her and her team’s heartache after the game because in the brutal game of sevens a different bounce of the ball would have seen us in that exact same position.
A great rivalry between two fierce and competitive teams that share the love of sevens and that have a great respect for each other.
The impact this amazing medal has had on the Australian population has been ridiculous. I couldn’t tell you how many photos Charlie has been inundated with of young girls wearing their hair in two braids and ribbons, along with the Facebook messages we have all received from Mums and Dads from around the world saying they want their daughters to start playing rugby now.
From the start of our Olympic campaign one of the things we wanted to achieve as a team was to be able to leave a lasting legacy for rugby in Australia and be pioneers in changing the perceptions around women in a traditionally male dominated sport.
"We wanted to create a brand of rugby that was fit, fast, feminine and fierce. "
We wanted to create a brand of rugby that was fit, fast, feminine and fierce. We wanted to create an environment where girls can have braids, ribbons, spray tans if they want and still tackle hard. We wanted to create a fast pace, electrifying style of attack that was entertaining and fun to watch.
I truly believe we can hold our heads high in saying that we have made an awesome start to that. It’s exciting to think how much bigger and better the game of sevens can get in Australia. Hopefully, with some more funding, corporate sponsorship and grass roots development along the way.
Over the two remaining weeks we spent in the village I’ve never eaten so many nuggets in my life. Every single one of them was deserved though I swear!
The experience of the Olympic Village was phenomenal. People everywhere, emotions of every kind on display and a really fun and lively environment. After we had finished we transformed into spectator mode, going to as many events we physically could. Supporting our fellow Australian team-mates was so fun, dressing up, cheering loud and wearing the green and gold zinc with pride. I was going to so many events I had never experienced live before. My favorites included the weightlifting, BMX and the Aussie women’s water polo.
As the events wound down and the partying ramped up it was a bittersweet moment seeing the Olympics come to an end so soon after they had started. The Closing Ceremony was an incredible experience; regardless of the rain and ponchos we rocked out in.
FULL OF COLOUR
After missing the Opening Ceremony I’m so glad I stayed on to experience the Closing Ceremony. It was full of colour, excitement and celebrations for a difficult but great Olympic event. The last part reminded me of a carnival street parade, a true Brazilian send off.
As I mentioned before we flew home business class and arrived into the Qantas Hanger at Sydney airport, greeted by family, friends, vegemite and my favourite Aussie singer Jessica Mauboy. It was a great welcoming home and celebration of the whole Australian Olympic Team efforts.
The only way to top the feeling of winning gold would be to win another one and as the Road to Rio is now officially over the Trek to Tokyo begins. A trek because four years of full-time professional rugby and training will be slog. Four more opportunities to win a world series will be bloody tough, a Commonwealth Games and a Rugby World Cup Sevens in the same year will be exhausting but we learnt that on the journey to Rio all those things were worth it and I’m 100 per cent sure the steps taken on the Trek to Tokyo will be exactly the same.
As I went straight from my three-week holiday overseas back into training I was keener than ever to get back and see the girls and staff. Another three weeks would have been great in the Mexican sun, but it was nice to get back to routine. My legs were not thinking the same the next day after a six-week absence of squatting!
We were fortunate enough to have some development girls in for the week to train with and against. Their energy, enthusiasm and keenness to learn were refreshing and inspiring and definitely left the majority of us with a lasting impression. The harder they work, the harder they make us work and everyone only benefits from it.
It turned out to be an awesome first week back to ‘work’ with photo shoots with Vogue Magazine and Who Magazine chucked in there as well. All I can say is let’s skip this pre-season business and just bring on the start of the next journey with Central Coast Sevens in October, Oceania Championship in Fiji in November and Dubai in December. Bring it on