THE REGION is ready to punch well above its weight from next Friday when five athletes with strong Mountains connections compete at the Games of the XXX Olympiad. We will also be represented at the Paralympics one month later when Blaxland resident Amanda Fowler takes to the pool. If there is one constant in their stories it’s confirmation that becoming an Olympian is no easy task with each athlete prevailing over their own challenges and setbacks to make it to London.
JOEL MILBURN: athletics, 4x400m relay
The 25-year-old from Faulconbridge is the only veteran Olympian in the group after experiencing a Games in Beijing four years ago. Milburn says he thrives on pressure situations and it’s just as well because it took until the very last selection race on the Gold Coast last month to confirm a spot on the team.
While the former Blue Mountains Grammar School student will not have the opportunity to race the individual event this time, after a season almost completely destroyed by tendinitis he is thrilled to have snuck into the relay squad.
“I’m really excited about going to the opening ceremony . . . I’m really looking forward to just taking in that Olympic spirit and getting excited for my race,” he said.
Humble beginnings as a five-year-old at Glenbrook Little Athletics Club have propelled Milburn to the world’s biggest competitions including world championships and Commonwealth Games. He will be hoping the relay team can go some way to emulating its gold medal winning performance in Delhi two years ago.
BEN ST LAWRENCE: athletics, 10,000m
Even before being selected to appear at his first Olympic Games in London, the Ben St Lawrence story was one well worth reading. Turn the clock back to 2006 and St Lawrence would have been hard-pressed to convince anyone — himself included — he would become a world class distance runner. A talented athlete during his time at Blue Mountains Grammar School, St Lawrence’s interest quickly turned to partying during his early 20s and soon enough he was carrying an extra 20 kilograms.
But the realisation that runners he used to beat were performing on the world stage jolted the now-30-year-old into action. A return to fitness was eventually followed by a City2Surf win in 2010, then world championships and Commonwealth Games appearances.
The former Bullaburra resident told the Gazette earlier this year those experiences would help, but conceded nothing could completely prepare him for the Olympic Games.
“I now know a lot of the other athletes and have an understanding of what happens at these big meets, but I’m sure I will still feel quite nervous during the whole experience,” he said. “I’ll just focus on doing my best and enjoying the Olympics as much as possible.”
AMANDA SPRATT: cycling, road race
Few sports challenge competitors’ ability to confront adversity like road cycling but Spratt lacks nothing in courage. The 24-year-old faced 18 months off the bike in 2008 and 2009 with a serious leg injury before building up her fitness to storm to a first national title last January. The performance put her front and centre in selectors’ minds before a solid European season made her impossible to ignore for the three-rider road race team.
Spratt is based in Italy during the European cycling season but relishes the chance to return to her Springwood home and the Mountains roads where she learnt her trade each summer.
“It would be scary to think about how many kilometres I have clocked up on the Great Western Highway since I started cycling,” she said.
The Australians will be the youngest team on the start line in London with no Olympic experience between them but on-road team captain Spratt is confident they can contend for a medal.
SEBASTIAN MARCZAK: canoeing, C1 200m
Sporting comebacks do not always have a happy ending but Marczak’s return to the water following the Beijing Olympics has delivered a debut Olympic appearance. The former Springwood resident quit after missing out on the Athens Games before returning when the International Canoeing Federation announced the C1 200m would become an Olympic event for the first time in London.
Marczak blitzed his competition for Australia’s spot at the Games earlier this year, winning all three qualification races to leave no doubt who was best qualified to wear the green and gold.
The 29-year-old has his eyes firmly set on qualifying for the A final at the Games.
“Once you make the A final, it’s anyone’s race. It’s pretty much who’s got more determination to win that,” he said.
JESSICA FOX: kayaking, K1 slalom
The 18-year-old former Blaxland High School student showed experience isn’t everything when she proved too strong for her older rivals at Australia’s selection trials in February. Fox does have an impressive pedigree in the sport — her British father and French mother are both former world kayaking champions. Incredibly, she will line up against a Czech paddler who competed against mother Myriam at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Just to show she is no one-trick pony, the Leonay resident took time out from preparation during 2011 to ace her Higher School Certificate exams, including finishing first in the state in personal development, health and physical education.
Fox has packed her schedule with races from Europe to the USA in recent weeks before she settles down in London leading into the Games. Despite some back pain she is confident after making the final in three world cup events.
“My back is under control and I’m managing my physical training and all in all I can’t wait for the Games,” she said. “Excited is an understatement.”
AMANDA FOWLER: swimming, 100m breaststroke SB14
Winning has become a habit over the past two years for the Blaxland swimmer who is aiming to bag another medal when the London Paralympics get started on August 29. Fowler won six gold medals at the 2011 National Underage Championships before backing up with seven golds at the Global Games in Italy.
Her opponents in London had best beware, the 15-year-old has upped her training regime in the lead-up to the Paralympics as she strives to deliver personal best times in London.