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Success of our athletes in Tokyo a team effort that includes all of us

12 August 2021

Australian Sports Commission Deputy Chair Steve Moneghetti writes that we are celebrating much more than winning a record number of gold medals after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Australian 800m runner Peter Bol running at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, wearing Australia's green and gold athletics uniform.
Australian 800m runner Peter Bol competes at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Bol broke the Australian 800m record twice on his way to finishing fourth in the final. Photo: Athletics Australia

Just over a year ago, many of us wouldn’t have believed that there would be an Olympic Games to celebrate, let alone a record medal haul by our Australian team.

The path to these Games has been longer than any marathon I ran and filled with more obstacles than we have ever experienced before. However, despite the odds, here we are at the end of the 32nd Olympiad celebrating not just an historic number of gold medals, but also the power of sport to inspire and unite us all.

I was fortunate to proudly don the green and gold at four Olympic Games. Competing at this level is a serious test of character and nerve but our current crop of Olympians have risen to the occasion like never before.

Our athletes showed spirit and determination to dig deep and deliver in the most challenging of circumstances. They have experienced major disruptions to training and competition, uncertainty if the games would happen, and separation from family, friends and support networks who would usually be there with them.

The stands may not have been filled with fans in Tokyo but we were all there in spirit, with Aussies watching in record numbers over the past 19 days. Who will forget the joy in seeing Ariarne Titmus and Emma McKeon state their dominance in the pool? Or Jess Fox achieve the dream of three Olympics and come away with gold and bronze? And the inspiring stories went beyond medals. Peter Bol, a truly great Australian story, running a magnificent 4th; Patty Mills, a proud Kokatha, Naghiralgal and Dauareb-Meriam man, simply an incredible Australian, leading the Boomers to bronze; and Cedric Dubler with the most outstanding display of fair play – helping his good mate Ash Moloney to bronze in the decathlon. It was pure joy to watch and we surely need more joy in our worlds right now.

Every Australian watching these inspiring events unfold can genuinely take some personal pride in the outcome. Research through Sport Australia tells us almost 80% of Aussies take pride and inspiration through our Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games athletes. And our extraordinary results in Tokyo would not be possible without everyday Australians, through Federal Government support to our national sporting organisations.

Our athletes showed spirit and determination to dig deep and deliver in the most challenging of circumstances.

Steve Moneghetti

While they are achieving the extraordinary in Japan, our athletes are also displaying their human side. The Australian Institute of Sport runs psychology and wellbeing services to athletes, and the AIS Mental Health Referral Network experienced record levels of in-reach in the lead up to Tokyo, so we know many were experiencing mental health challenges – and I applaud those who’ve reached out for help, and who’ve championed the importance of recognising when we’re not ‘ok’.

As chair of the AIS Athlete Advisory Committee, wellbeing has been a core focus of the group and to our athletes I would say we are always here to help if you need it. I am proud the AIS is working closely with the Australian Olympic Committee to continue supporting our athletes as they return home and complete the necessary quarantine periods.

I have always loved the Olympic Games motto – Faster, Higher, Stronger, but for the first time since 1896 a new word was added. Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together.

This phrase perfectly sums up how the Australian high performance sector has managed the trials and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic leading up to the Tokyo Games. It has been a genuine team effort to put Australian sport in the position to succeed in Tokyo. The AOC has supported a magnificent Games Team, and our state and territory institutes and academies of sport deserve enormous credit.I’m immensely proud of the leadership role the Australian Sports Commission has played through the AIS to prepare our athletes for Tokyo in partnership with our National Sporting Organisations.

The Federal Government deserves significant credit for its consistent support of high-performance sport. The funding certainty it has provided to Sport Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport over an extended period has had a major impact and is critical in enabling us to provide and continue these important - and proven - programs. Even better, the most recent budget allocated more than $130 million over the next three years to allow these programs to continue into the future - including more than $14 million per year in direct athlete payments from the AIS through to the next Olympics in Paris.

The success we have seen in Tokyo doesn’t stop here. The COVID-19 delay means we are just one year away from the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and the Beijing Winter Olympics, and three years from the next Summer Olympics in Paris, and with 13 of the 17 gold medals won in Japan including a debutante, I am excited for what we will see at these Games.

To see medals in the new sports of skateboarding, surfing and BMX Freestyle in Tokyo has been amazing as well as making me feel old and is so important for the future of sport in this country. In addition to the traditional heroes from the pool, track and field and on the courts, and fields Aussie kids can grab their boards and bikes – and dare to dream.

We are embarking on an exciting chapter in Australia’s sporting history. In eleven years’ time, the Olympics and Paralympic Games will return to our shores for Brisbane 2032. There’s plenty of work to do in ensuring a successful Games but after seeing what we have achieved over the last couple of weeks in Tokyo, the future is bright. And we will continue to do it together as one Aussie team.

To the Australian Olympic Team, a big thank you for inspiring a nation and wearing the Olympic uniform with pride, well done to you all. And to our Paralympians, we can’t wait. Bring it on!

Steve Moneghetti is chair of the Athletes Advisory Committee at the Australian Institute of Sport and deputy chair of the Australian Sports Commission. He represented Australia in the marathon at four Olympic Games, finishing 10th in his final games at Sydney 2000. He won gold at the 1994 Commonwealth Games.

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