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The Roar


Gold diggers: Ash, Sally and eight other compelling Aussie yarns to get behind in Tokyo

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14th July, 2021

And so, finally, cometh the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, aka the 2020 Summer Olympics, aka Tokyo 2020, aka the ‘Covid Games Largely Without fans or Tourists Which is a Bit of a Shame’ Games.

And yet – it’s the Olympics! And for two weeks, in Tokyo’s super-tasty time-zone (AEST less one hour), we’ll be in thrall and get into The Big O as we always do.

Because for all the cynicism, corruption and cheating (Russian athletes will be competing under the banner of “Russian Olympic Committee” because their nation-state ran a doping program, the damned fools) there’s still something very cool about seeing the eucalyptus and wattle on a global sporting stage.

Cooler still if we win!

Gracenote, a Nielsen group sports analytics mob, predicts Australia will win 12 gold, 13 silver and 15 bronze medals to rank seventh overall behind usual heavyweights USA, China and Russian Olympic Committee, and one ahead of Great Britain, which is nice in a phantom Melbourne Cup call kind of way.

Regardless, we’ll punch above our weight, as ever. There are swimmers, of course, favourites for gold. There are runners, throwers, leapers and a certain Wimbledon-winning tennis player with a genuine show of hauling home that sweet golden bullion.

Here’s ten of our compatriots who’ll be very worth watching.

Our Ash: Ashleigh Barty

Ash Barty had two goals for 2021: win Wimbledon; win Olympic gold. She’s one from two and the pressure’s off – and on.


She’s “Our Ash”, “Aussie Ash”, all that. There’s expectation. She’s now the hunted, a dual major champion, world No.1; they will all lift when playing her.

Ashleigh Barty of Australia celebrates

(Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

You sense, however, from watching Barty perform so brilliantly under pressure in the All England Lawn Tennis Championships, that after a decade on the pro tour the 25-year-old has worked out how to bring her best when it matters most.

She had a bad hip heading to Wimbledon and was able to block out the pain and disjointed preparation to just up and win. She’s already won a French Open to go with numerous championships on hard courts (like Tokyo’s) including a WTA title at Shenzen in 2019. No monkeys have ridden her back to Japan. She’s a beauty. Go her.

Missing Link: Matisse Thybulle

Ben Simmons won’t represent Australia at the Olympic Games because he wants to “work on personal development”, you’d think he might work on three-point shooting in Tokyo but what do we know?

Matisse Thybulle is going to Tokyo, however, and he, sports fans, is very handy indeed. Thybulle is a 24-year-old defensive star for Philadelphia 76ers and a dual citizen of Australia and America having spent seven years in Sydney from age two.

He’s capable of shutting down offence all over the court, is athletic and skilful in attack and starred on debut for Australia in the 87-84 pre-Olympic trial win over Argentina.


With 15 points (including three-from-three 3-pointers), four steals and three blocks, Boomers coach Brian Goorjian declared Thybulle “a piece that just hasn’t been there and a huge addition for us”. Andrew Bogut was watching on TV and tweeted: “@MatisseThybulle is legit!”

The Terminator: Ariarne Titmus

The women’s 200m freestyle world record is 1:52:98 and is held by Federica Pellegrini of Italy. Set in 2009 it is the oldest standing record in swimming because people were wearing hyper-buoyant “super suits”.

Australia's Ariarne Titmus

Ariarne Titmus of Australia ( (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

And on June 14 this year in Adelaide, Ariarne Titmus of Launceston, came the closest anyone ever has to Pellegrini’s mark, touching the plate just 0:11 seconds shy. It was a swim that said – shouted! – to the brilliant American Katie Ledecky, 24, (five Olympic golds, 15-time World Champion, 400m, 800m and 1500m world record holder): the 200m free in Tokyo will be all-out war.

But it’s not like 20-year-old Titmus is under the radar. In 2018 she smashed the 400m freestyle world record at the World Short Course Championships. She’s the current 400m freestyle World Champion. They call her “Arnie”. And like The Terminator she said of her Olympic trial time: “I can swim faster.”

Fastest. Backstroker. Ever: Kaylee McKeown

The Australian and United States Olympic swimming trials were held on the same dates in June, which meant the world of American swimming was waking up to emphatic statements from Down Under. One of those statements came from 19-year-old Kaylee McKeown who booked her seat on the plane to Tokyo by breaking the 100m backstroke world record.


It was a mark held by Regan Smith of the USA who will be McKeown’s major competition in Tokyo. Smith does still own the 200m backstroke world record. But McKeown is coming for that, too. And there will be milliseconds between these people in Tokyo. Strap in.

Breaking Bad: Rohan Browning
In March of this year Rohan Browning qualified for Tokyo by running 100 metres in 10.05 seconds, a time that would have got him into the semi-finals of the blue-riband event in Rio 2016.

More importantly it qualified him for the 100m sprint in Tokyo, the first Australian to do so since the flying Josh Ross in 2004. Can he break ten seconds? You bet he can. Indeed he has, albeit unofficially given the tailwind.

Yet when you run 9.96 you’re in the stratosphere. That said it’s quite dense in that space given there are 20 people who’ve broken ten seconds this year. Yet his quest to break the ten legal and find himself in an Olympic 100m final will be compelling indeed. He’s 150-1 to win gold. So was Steven Bradbury.

King of the Island: Stewart McSweyn

This fellow, according to all reports, can run like a hairy goat. From the hot, lung-busting pace of a 1500m to the slow burning endurance of the 10,000m, Stewart McSweyn – who grew up running across large, windswept tracts of King Island – is Australia’s best long-distance runner since Craig Mottram. And he’s a serious chance of gold in Tokyo.

His main claim to fame is running the fastest mile (1609m) in the world in the last seven years. His time of 3:48.37 also bettered Mottram’s Australian record set in 2005 and was the 22nd-fastest mile of all time.

In Monaco in early July he bettered his own personal best for the 1500m. He is one of the favourites for the 1500m in Tokyo. Yet there are some Africans to get by, of course. In ominous news for McSweyn, Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya, the world’s top-ranked man in the 1500m, didn’t make the team because three other guys beat him home in Kenya’s Olympic trials.


McSweyn will also run in the 5000m and 10,000m events. Kenyans go okay in those events, too.

Deadly challenger: Sally Fitzgibbons

Surfing is an Olympic sport and if you’d told 10-year-old Sally Fitzgibbons that as she paddled about Gerroa Beach on the NSW South Coast she’d have looked at you quizically and then perhaps believed you because she was only ten.

Regardless, today she’s a member of “The Irukandjis” the Australian surfing team that’s “Deadly in the Water” and features Fitzgibbons, Steph Gilmore, Owen Wright and Julian Wilson, who will compete for gold in the men’s and women’s events.

Sally Fitzgibbon is ready to shred in Tokyo. (Getty Images)

Fitzgibbons is currently ranked third on the World Surf League’s Championship Tour, having been ranked No.1 during 2019. She’s a beauty. Go her.

The Leaper: Brandon Starc

Brandon Starc stands 188cm (6-2) which makes him a relatively small man in the high-flying world of high jumping where your standard body shapes tend to the extra-long, thin and angular.


Think praying mantises with bionic calves. Starc, though, given his training weight of 71 kilograms, can launch himself over a bar set 2.36 metres from the ground, a feat he pulled off when winning the Internationales Hochsprung event at Eberstadt, Germany, in 2018.

It was Starc’s best year. He won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane (leaping 2.32m) and also in Brussels in Belgium where he scaled 2.33m to win the IAAF Diamond League final. And for 11 weeks he was number one, the highest-ranked high-jumper in the world.

Though he didn’t clear the qualifying height of 2.33m at the Australian titles he did a few months later in in Italy. Only three men have gone 3-4cm higher this year. Starc, (yes, he’s the brother of cricketer Mitch) is a pretty decent chance in Tokyo.

Tank Girl: Charlotte Caslick

The best player in the best rugby sevens team at the Rio Olympics is back again to defend the gold medal won in 2016.

Charlotte Caslick represents all that’s good about Australian women’s rugby sevens. She’s fast, agile, strong, skilful. She’s fit! Super fit; you have to be to play rugby sevens. And strong, too.

She’s athletic and with her pig-tails flying out behind her hundreds of thousands of girls (and boys) watched her do her thing in Rio and thought: ‘how about her. That’s what I want to be: strong. Fit. Fast. And winning a gold medal for Australia at the Olympic bloody Games.’

Caslick has now played for Australia for eight years. She’s played rugby league for Sydney Roosters. She’s on the cover of Women’s Health magazine. She’s 26-years-old. She’s a ripper.

Javelin Girl: Kelsey Lee-Barber

In 2019 Kelsey Lee-Barber threw a javelin further than she ever had before. Three times she set PBs in competition, culminating in a throw of 67.70m at the Spitzen Leichtathletik Luzern Athletics Meeting. It was the 12th-longest one in history.

Then she went to Doha for the World Championships and didn’t throw as far. But still won! World Champion! Kelsey Lee-Barber. How about that? And as of today the 29-year-old heads to Tokyo as the number one ranked women’s javelin thrower in the world. And good bloody luck to her.

And to all these people. Go all of them.