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AOC Feature: Matildas, Eales and Olympic destiny

26 August 2011

Sports fans often indulge in friendly banter about the superiority of “the game they play in heaven” versus “the world game” versus “the greatest sporting spectacle on earth”. But whether rugby, football or the Olympic Games is your passion, the three are allies for the Aussies in 2012.

Rugby Great John Eales will be a mentor to the Australian Olympic Team in his role as an Athlete Liaison Officer (ALO) in 2012. Eales loves the position, having also fulfilled the role at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and 2004 Athens Games. In London, Eales will be accompanied in the inspiration department by Olympic champion Kieren Perkins, surfing legend Layne Beachley, former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh and Team Motivator, Laurie Lawrence.

For Eales, the appointment is one that he relishes in.

“There is no question that the Olympics are the premier sporting event in the world so to be selected on the Australian Olympic Team is the greatest honour you can have in sport in Australia,” Eales said.

Speaking to aspiring Australian athletes aiming to compete at the London 2012 Olympics, Eales recalls two standout moments in his careers as an ALO and as a player.

His first memory is of seeing the almighty self-motivation of the Australian men’s hockey team win their first ever gold medal in Athens in 2004. The Kookaburras had immense belief in their ability and despite passing through their pool matches without much exclamation; they had a steely focus on their ultimate golden goal.

The widely recognised moment Eales recalls in his own playing career is captaining the Wallabies to their last Rugby World Cup win in 1999.

Incidentally, Eales led the Aussies to victory on the turf of Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, which will play host to the first events of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Women’s football will kick off the Olympic program there on July 24, 2012.

Whether Eales can be there to cheer on the Aussie women depends on the results of a daunting 11 days of qualification for the Matildas beginning on September 1. To qualify for the London Olympics, Australia’s women will play a six-team, five match tournament needing to finish in the top two.

Enter into the equation 2011 World Cup Champions Japan, Asian Cup runners-up DPR Korea, Korea Republic, host-nation China and Thailand and it seems a fair challenge.

But the Matildas continue to prove themselves, winning the 2010 Asian Cup and making the quarter-finals of the 2007 and 2011 World Cups. Having missed out on a place at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the desire to compete in London looms large.

With echoes of a determined 2004 Kookaburras outfit, World Cup All-Star Elise Kellond-Knight captures the fight of the Matildas.

“The task of five games in 11 days scares me, but we’ve shown our never-say-die attitude before and I think it will shine through in September,” she said. “No matter how tired or fatigued we are feeling, our team always manages to find something extra, and hopefully that will help us get to the Olympics.”

The Matildas will leave everything on the pitch this September as they strive towards the ultimate goal of playing the world game at the Games. Hopefully they will be there in London 2012 to launch their Olympic campaign on a field that was once so friendly to Australian rugby.

Taya Conomos

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