The 5 Greatest Moments in Australian Olympic History
With Tokyo 2021 months away, we at Pickstar have decided to look back on some of the greatest Australian Olympic Performances in the nation’s long history of sporting success.
From the track to the pool, Australia has produced some of the most memorable Olympic performances since the inception of the modern version of the games in 1896. One of the original 11 competing nations from these first games in Athens, Australia possesses a long list of Olympic legends and legendary performances, here are PickStar’s top five:
5. Steve Hooker Wins Gold in the Men’s Pole Vault at Beijing 2008
The first Australian field athlete to win a gold medal in 60 years and first-ever Pole Vault gold, Steve Hooker's performance at Beijing 2008 is certainly one to remember for all Australians. He twice cleared jumps on his third attempt in the final, before heroically clearing yet another third attempt at 5.90m to secure the gold medal. With his final jump, he put the cherry on top of his performance, breaking the Olympic Record at 5.96m. Hooker’s performance led to him becoming a major fan favourite amongst Australians.
4. Duncan Armstrong Shocks the World at Seoul 1998
Qualifying fourth fastest into the 200m Freestyle final, Australian Duncan Armstrong was not expected to have much of a chance at the gold. Despite a decent qualification time, he faced a stacked field, coming up against Poland’s Artur Wojdat, Sweden’s Anders Holmertz, World Record holder, and West German Michael Gross, and America’s Matt Biondi who was aiming to take home his seventh gold medal of the games.
Armstrong and coach Laurie Lawrence formulated a plan to stick to Biondi’s wake before moving within striking distance prior to the final turn. The plan worked perfectly and the final 50m produced a three-way battle between Biondi, Holmertz, and Armstrong, with the Australian eventually powering away to bring home the gold, and in turn breaking the World Record with a time of 1:47.25.
The win saw post-race celebrations explode not just here in Australia, but at the pool in Seoul too, with Lawrence giving an iconic interview with Network Ten’s Stephen Quartermaine which included him placing Quartermaine in a headlock and finished with Lawrence being tossed into the pool by fellow Australian Swim Team members.
3. Betty Cuthbert’s Farewell Race at Tokyo 1964
After being catapulted to stardom thanks to a stellar performance at her home games in Melbourne in 1956, Betty Cuthbert became Australia’s Golden Girl. However, her success was short-lived, following an injury-related flame out in the Rome 1960 games which saw her be eliminated for the heats in the 100m and 200m events, leading to her retirement.
However, Cuthbert shocked the world by coming out of retirement for the Tokyo 1964 games, for one final shot at a gold medal. She elected to focus on the 400m event and qualified third fastest in the heats, before qualifying fourth fastest for the final. In the final, Cuthbert got out of the blocks strong, leading comfortably at the 200m mark. British favourite Ann Packer attempted to close the gap in the back half of the race, but Cuthbert held on to secure her fourth gold medal, a fitting end to her career.
2. Thorpe Brings it Home at Sydney 2000
The United States had never lost the Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay entering the Sydney 2000 games making them clear favourites for the event. But with a home crowd cheering them on, the Australian team consisting of Michael Klim, Chris Fydler, Ashley Callus, and Ian Thorpe believed they had what it took to take down the Americans.
After the first three legs of the relay, Thorpe entered the pool half a body length back from arch American rival Gary Hall Jr. He quickly made up the ground before heroically powering home in the final 10m to secure a historic victory for Australia. The crowd and the rest of the nation were sent into raptures after not only clinching gold but taking home a new World Record with it.
1. Cathy Freeman Wins Gold at Sydney 2000
Wearing her now iconic white, green, and gold full-body suit Cathy Freeman seemed like she had the weight of an entire nation resting on her shoulders as she stepped onto the blocks before the 400m final at her home Olympic Games in Sydney. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric and only grew once the starter's pistol was shot.
Freeman was too strong for her competitors and powered away to the strongest of finishes, clinching gold in front of a raucous home crowd. She then enjoyed a victory lap, draped in both the Aboriginal and Australian flags and inspiring Australia's population while doing so.
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