Australia’s women’s softball team, the Aussie Spirit, has had 11 gold medal champions in camp with them at the AIS as they prepare to pitch for an historic Olympic win in Tokyo.
The Aussie Spirit have called on the AIS Gold Medal Program to support their Olympic simulation camp at the AIS in Canberra, which has included mentoring from 11 Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists – known as the Gold Medal Ready Alumni.
The Spirit have claimed a medal at all four Olympic Games they have contested, but are leaving nothing to chance as they attempt to break-through for their very first Olympic gold in Tokyo.
The Sprit have based their two week camp at the AIS on Toyko scenario planning, including playing games at the same time as their Olympic schedule. Mental preparation has been a major focus, which is where the Gold Medal Ready program comes in.
Eleven Olympic and Paralympic champions from six different sports have immersed themselves with the Aussie Spirit squad, giving tips throughout the camp on and also throwing a few curve balls their way – like extra-long bus trips to the venue, delayed start times and shortened preparations.
Rower Kim Brennan won her Olympic gold medal in 2016 and says it took until her third Games to find the winning formula. The AIS Gold Medal Ready program, she says, is about trying to fast-track that understanding and development.
“The AIS Gold Medal Ready program is working with athletes to be in that high performance mindset when it counts,” Brennan says. “When you get to an Olympic Games, everyone’s fit, strong and good at the sport they play. The difference is that ability to have your best performance when it matters.
“So what we’re trying to do in the AIS Gold Medal Ready program is bring gold medal-winning athletes from previous Olympics to share their experiences and demystify that feeling. A gold medallist isn’t superhuman, they’re human like everyone else, but they’ve learned skills to be able to deal with pressure, stress, setbacks and adversity.”
Swimmer Stephanie Rice was 20 when she won three Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics: “Sharing those lessons we’ve all learned as gold medallists with the current athletes is just invaluable. It’s important for athletes to realise others have gone through these same pressures and achieved the best result possible. So it just makes you feel more comfortable with your own insecurities, strengths and weaknesses.”
It has been 13 years since softball was on the Olympic schedule and it will be removed again after Tokyo. Aussie Spirit player Chelsea Forkin admitted, for many players, this could be a once in a lifetime shot at Olympic gold.
“That’s what we’re working on at the moment, everything’s for the gold,” Forkin said. “We’re hunting the gold, we’re always thinking about it, it’s always in the back of our minds. So I think we’ve just got to get over there and follow our processes and stick to what we know and we’ll be ready to compete.
“It makes us really proud to be a part of the Gold Medal Ready program. It’s extremely special to have that support from those past Olympic athletes, especially because they have been so successful, they’ve won gold and they’ve invested in us.”
The 11 Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists that attended the softball camp comprised medallists at every Olympic Games since 1996, 29 Games of experience, 17 gold medals across six sports. They included Kerri Pottharst (Beach Volleyball); Suzy Corry, nee Balogh (Shooting); Kim Brennan (Rowing); Stephanie Rice (swimming), Brent Livermore (Hockey); Scott Brennan (Rowing); Juliet Haslam (Hockey); Katrina Webb (Athletics) Danielle Woodhouse (Waterpolo); Matthew Wells; and Matt Levy (Swimming).
Almost 40 former Australian gold medallists and 18 gold-medal winning coaches are now part of the Gold Medal Ready Alumni working throughout sports. Juliet Haslam, a two-time Olympic gold medallist with the Hockeyroos, says the AIS Gold Medal Ready program is a wonderful connection between current and former athletes.
“All of the Alumni know there is no easy road to an Olympic gold medal. It takes resilience, persistence, and it’s powerful for athletes to be able to hear those stories from people who have been through that, can relate and understand,” Haslam says. “From an Alumni perspective it’s fabulous to be a small part of the athlete journey, it’s an amazing feeling and it’s very rewarding.”
Already postponed because of COVID last year, Brennan said Australian athletes are saying the Tokyo Games will be “a whole new extreme” dealing with the unexpected.
“I think this is going to be a considerable advantage for our athletes, being able to practise and simulate all those permutations before they get over there to compete.”
“The spirit in this softball team is exceptional, you can just you can feel the energy and you can feel the excitement. I think an important thing that the girls are working on is the ability to maintain that spirit, whether they’re winning or losing, making sure that energy that is such a part of their team.”