Growing up, Ashleigh Werner had a dream of representing Australia in the Olympic Games, but you might say that over the years she has had some trouble picking just one sport to compete in.
The Australian Rio Olympics Team of 410 includes seven Indigenous athletes, with five making their Olympic debut.
Australian Indigenous representation starts from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics with boxers Adrian Blair and Francis Roberts along with basketballer Michael Ah Matt.
The seven Indigenous Australian athletes selected for Rio Olympics are as follows.
Benn Harradine – athletics discus thrower who previously attended 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics.
Patrick Mills – NBA basketballer who previously attended 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics.
» Check out the complete Rio Olympics schedule
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Lydia Williams and Kyah Simon – female footballers will make their Olympic debut, with the Matildas having not qualified for the last two Olympics.
Brooke Peris – women’s hockey player makes her Olympic debut and follows in the footsteps of her first cousin Nova Peris, who won gold in women’s hockey at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Taliqua Clancy – becomes they first Indigenous female volleyball player to represent Australia at the Olympics. She will team with Louise Bawden in women’s beach volleyball.
John Porch – men’s rugby sevens player with the Thunderbolts. Rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut and rugby union was last played at the 1924 Paris Olympics.
In all, 48 Indigenous Australian athletes will have competed at the Olympics at the conclusion of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The gender breakdown is 37 males and 11 females, with boxing having the highest representation for an individual sport.
Boxing – 19 athletes (19 male)
Athletics – 7 athletes (4 male, 3 female)
Hockey – 5 athletes (3 male, 2 female)
Football – 5 athletes (2 male, 3 female)
Basketball – 4 athletes (3 male, 1 female)
Water Polo – 2 athletes (2 male)
Weightlifting – 1 athlete (1 male),
Swimming – 1 athlete (1 female)
Wrestling – 1 athlete (1 male)
Softball – 1 athlete (1 female)
Cycling – 1 athlete (1 male)
Rugby Sevens – 1 athlete (1 male)
Beach Volleyball – 1 athlete (1 female)
Note – Nova Peris included in both hockey (1996) and athletics (2000).
Highest representation of Indigenous athletes at an Olympics is as follows.
12 – 2000 Sydney Olympics
10 – 2008 Beijing Olympics
9 – 2004 Athens Olympics
8 – 2012 London Olympics, 1996 Atlanta Olympics
7 – 2016 Rio Olympics
4 – 1992 Barcelona Olympics
3 – 1964 Tokyo Olympics, 1968 Mexico Olympics
2 – 1988 Seoul Olympics
1 – 1972 Munich Olympics, 1980 Moscow Olympics,
0 – 1976 Montreal Olympics
At the end of the 2012 London Olympics, eight Indigenous athletes have won medals with Cathy Freeman (athletics) and Nova Peris (hockey) winning gold. Only two athletes have won individual medals – Freeman (gold and silver) and Samantha Riley (silver and bronze). Six athletes have won medals as part of a team – Nova Peris (hockey gold), Stacey Porter (softball silver), Rohanne Cox (basketball silver), Baeden Choppy, Desmond Abbott and Joel Carroll (hockey bronze) .
Harradine (2008-2012) and Mills (2008-2012) join Freeman (1992-2000) in representing Australia at three Olympics.
Indigenous Australian representation at the Olympics is hampered by the decision of many Indigenous male athletes to play professional sports such as AFL, rugby league and rugby union and female athletes playing netball and softball – all of which are not Olympic sports.
Boxing has traditionally been a sport with high representation but changes in Olympic boxing qualification have made it now more difficult for Australian boxers to qualify.
Other factors that may result in less representation include the isolated location of many Indigenous communities to competition, lack of sporting facilities, lack of Olympic Indigenous role models and the fact that many Australian Olympic athletes have attended a private school with specific coaches and facilities. Four out of the seven athletes selected for Rio Olympics – Brooke Peris, Lydia Williams, Kyah Simon and Patrick Mills – attended private high schools.
Several Australian national sports organisations such as athletics and hockey have recognised Indigenous talent by establishing programs to increase their participation and hopefully Olympic representation.
The Australian Olympic Committee is working with organisations such as Cathy Freeman Foundation, Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy, the Remote School Attendance program and Robert De Castella’s Indigenous Marathon Project to promote Olympic sport.
Representation may also increase in the future with the inclusion of rugby sevens.
I hope the seven athletes selected have a very successful Olympics and inspire up-and-coming Indigenous athletes.