Trust a five-time Olympian to define the games experience.
“They’re beautiful journeys,” basketball legend and Channel 7 commentor Andrew Gaze said of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. “You don’t have to have a medal to have a beautiful journey.”
That’s precisely the shared experience of the thousands of athletes who represented their nations at the games no one could attend but which the world truly needed.
Many left Japan with objective trinkets draped around their necks, some notched personal bests and others departed with near misses.
For the Australian Catholic University students and alumni, indelible memories were carved into their minds as they contemplate what comes next in their sporting and career journeys.
For student paramedic Rowena Meredith, Tokyo was a transformative experience.
Having qualified at the last available opportunity, via what she called “the regatta of death”, the rower realised during her post-games quarantine period that she had finally arrived at the top of the mountain.
“I’ve looked online and seen the profiles of Olympians, their hobbies … the reality hadn’t really sunk in for me but it’s interesting now that I’m part of that population,” the bronze medallist and Elite Athlete and Performer Program member said.
“I’ve lifted the curtain to a different world. I’ve stood in a coffee line and made small talk with Emma McKeon.
“It’s just a really amazing experience and it’s something that I’ll take into other opportunities.”
While Meredith wanted to fully absorb the experience before considering another Olympics tilt, Bachelor of Psychological Science/Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science student Reba Stewart can’t wait for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Another member of ACU’s Elite Athlete and Performer Program, Stewart left Tokyo dissatisfied with her performance and has wasted little time plotting a path back to sport’s ultimate theatre.
“I know I’ll always be an Olympian,” the taekwondo representative said.
“This has given me drive. Now I have a taste of it I want more.
“It’s given me an insight into what I need to do to be ready.”
Three shoulder operations after she was part of the Australian women’s sevens rugby team that won gold in Rio, Emma Tonegato had every reason to reflect on her experience.
Australia finished fifth in Tokyo, a sobering experience for Tonegato when compared to the team’s historic performance in 2016.
But the flyer will remember fondly the unusual experience of playing in Tokyo’s empty stadium and remains proud of defeating the serious shoulder injury to win selection and become a dual Olympian.
“At the end of the day it’s still an Olympic Games and that’s something I’m proud of,” the Bachelor of Occupational Therapy student said.
“I don’t feel like I’m some one who’ll get recognised and stopped in the street. But I’ll know, and for the rest of my life that’s something I can be proud of and be able to tell the grandkids I’m a two-time Olympian.”