Australia’s women’s 4x100m freestyle team is on course for a fifth Olympic gold medal in the event and third in a row after its ‘B team’ blitzed the field and threatened the world record as Olympic swimming started Saturday.
Yesterday, Hannah Buckling was one of the 13 women named in the Australian women’s water polo team set to compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games, which are now just 59 days away.
This will be Buckling’s second Olympic Games after making her Olympic debut in Rio. Buckling joins her other teammates including the likes of Bronwen Knox who became the first Australian woman to make four Olympics in water polo, debutants Abby Andrews, Bronte Halligan, Gabriella Palm and Matilda Kearns and captain Rowie Webster, who has been selected for her third Olympics.
“Yesterday was a good day, a very exciting day,” said Buckling.
“After what seems like the longest lead up, I was so thrilled with the news.”
While the past year has been challenging for many of our Olympic athletes, Buckling decided to take advantage of the postponement of the Olympics by intensely focusing on her studies.
She already holds a Bachelor of Science from Sydney University and is currently doing a post-graduate medical degree.
“In March of last year when the Olympics were postponed, I was able to re-enrol in university, so to get another year of study under my belt before coming into camp was amazing,” said Buckling.
“I’m fortunate that water polo was so supportive and that University was so flexible, so while it’s been disappointing at times and the postponement was devastating, I’ve made the most of my time.”
Like many other female athletes, Buckling is used to juggling her studies with her elite sporting commitments.
But an intensive degree and representing Australia at the highest level require commitment, time management and dedication.
For Buckling, what also keeps her motivated is the love that she has for her sport and for her studies.
“I’m lucky I have been able to do both,” she said.
“I can’t say that it’s always smooth sailing either, but it’s important that I love both of the things that I do.
“I’m extremely passionate about waterpolo, I enjoy it so much so that helps when you passionate about both things. One almost becomes the break from the other.”
For now, Buckling is on a break from her university studies and is wholly focused on water polo. With the team now selected, focus is completely on Tokyo and the remaining weeks of preparation.
Whilst Buckling has been to an Olympic Games before, the preparation this time will be slightly different. At this point, the Stingers would normally be overseas competing against their international rivals.
Due to the pandemic, this cannot happen, so instead the team are training together in camp up at the Sunshine Coast and doing plenty of video review of their competition.
Despite these challenges, each athlete competing at the Olympics is in the same situation and there are high hopes for the Aussie Stingers in Tokyo.
The squad won bronze at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, Korea, and also won Olympic bronze at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
For Buckling, what gives her additional confidence is the camaraderie within the squad which, over time, has become almost like a family.
“We have an incredible broader squad, so we really just enjoy being around each other all the time,” said Buckling.
“Of course, people get sick of each other from time to time, but in general we love being together and it has been great for our team cohesion having everyone training together all the time.”
In fact, given the lack of opportunity to train together last year, there is a sense of not taking this time for granted.
“Last year was pretty tough,” said Buckling.
“So when everyone came back this year we were all excited to be back together, the sheer time that we spend together means we have formed some unbreakable bonds.”
The athletes selected to represent Australia at the Olympics are slowly coming to terms with how different these Games will be from previous ones.
But for Buckling, these challenges present opportunities.
“The things that make me nervous are also the things that will make it unique and exciting.
“With COVID restrictions it is going to be so different. We can’t just walk around the village and we won’t have any spectators from home.
“But that in itself, the capacity to put on an Olympic Games during a pandemic makes it even more special and is a testament to human capacity and resilience.”
Whilst spectators will not be able to watch live, Buckling and her teammates are hoping that Aussies tune in from home.
“Hopefully the entire world tunes into some water polo,” said Buckling.
“Here in Australia, the time difference really works for us, so I hope everyone gets around us and enjoys watching us play.”