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Support from the stands keeping girls afloat

16 August 2016

WATER POLO: It’s not just athletes that make the journey to an Olympic Games.

Take for example, the Australian women’s water polo team. They are buoyed by the support of their families and friends.

You only need to look to the stands to see the support from the team’s mums and dads, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, boyfriends and husbands and friends. Most are wearing specially made jade green supporter shirts; their backs emblazoned with who it is they’re here to support – Bishop, Wakefield, Webster. They’re united as they cheer on their daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, partners and mates.

There’s estimated to be around 150 Aussies who’ve made the trip to Rio to support the 13 women in the squad.

Rowing pictogram

Kelsey Wakefield has 13 supporters here for her alone.

There are no exclusions here. She’s brought along her mum and dad, sister, aunty and nine friends.

Kelsey’s mum Janelle explains that the group of friends have formed a cheer squad of sorts.

“They’ve got cheers for every girl in the team; dance moves,” Wakefield laughs.

She admits her first Games experience makes her nervous.

“It’s very nerve-wrecking. You start to shake,” adds Wakefield.

High Performance Manager Tom Hill describes the water polo supporters as “a big Australia-wide family”.

And this family is loud.

Isobel Bishop’s dad Andrew Bishop agrees with Hill.

“They’re a very big family,” a proud Bishop says of his daughter’s first Games.

“They’re here to support the girls. We know how hard they’ve worked to get here.”

Familiar chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! OI, OI, OI!” echo around the Olympic Aquatics Stadium.

Bishop knows the importance of such vocal support.

“You get the Aussie spectators together; they’re unstoppable,” Bishop adds.

It’s not just the players feeling nervous.

“I have been feeling very squeamish,” Bishop reveals.

“It’s hit me a few times this morning. I woke up at 4 o’clock this morning thinking about it. It comes and goes in waves and I can only think what the girls are going through.

“I usually find that a beer helps and that helps with the cheering as well.”

Amongst the supporters are the Australian men’s water polo team. Despite their campaign here in Rio being over, it doesn’t mean their job is done. They have some serious supporting to do – even if it means wearing nothing but their Speedos and water polo caps.

The men's water polo team out in support

Gemma Beadsworth’s boyfriend, Sam Davis, is one of 11 people supporting Gemma.

They’ve been together for six years.

“I’m feeling very nervous,” admits Davis while clutching a beer.

He says it doesn’t get any easier despite the fact he went to watch Beadsworth in London.

Davis says he hasn’t seen much his girlfriend these Games.

“You get 10, 15 minutes after the game,” Davis said.

“We chat once a day maybe.

“They’ve been away for probably the last five months out of nine. You get used to it.”

And as Land Down Under rings out of the speakers, it’s the Aussie supporter base draped in Australian flags, waving their giant inflatable yellow boxing kangaroos, that make the most noise.

And after a heartbreaking defeat in a penalty shoot-out to Hungary, it’s the team’s family and friends who they’ll turn to, to keep them afloat.

Sophie Onikul


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