Chef de Mission farewells horror year for sport


As the calendar flips to December, the sports community inches closer to the end of a horror year unlike any other.

With the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics postponed, international sport events cancelled and national sport events and trials abandoned, it has provided a challenge Australian athletes have never faced before.

Athletes have been tested in new ways being away from the sports they love, and dealing with the many challenges they have faced, but Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Australian Team Chef de Mission Petria Thomas OAM believes the challenging period of 2020 could well result in exciting times in 2021 and beyond.

“It is uncommon that athletes in a lot of sports get such long blocks of training in because there are usually regular meets and events to prepare for and compete at,” Thomas said.

“Training is not always the most exciting thing to be doing as an athlete… but I think because of the extended periods the athletes have had to train, they will be reaping the benefits in their performances in the next few years.”

This belief has already started to come to fruition, evident at the Swimming Australia 2020 Hancock Prospecting Australian Virtual Short Course meet.

A new look format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held simultaneously at five aquatic venues around Australia, but it didn’t stop Australia’s best swimmers breaking Australian, Commonwealth and world records in a blistering weekend of swimming.

“It is fantastic that athletes are getting to compete again, it has been a very challenging year in that respect,” Thomas said.

“There have been some outstanding results already… such as a short course world record for Kaylee McKeown in the 200m backstroke.”



The Gold Coast 2018 team member has exploded off the blocks since competitions have returned in Australia, breaking a six-year-old world record mark in the 200m backstroke, before breaking the short course Commonwealth and Australian record in the women’s 200m individual medley.

The 19-year-old then went on to claim the 100m backstroke and 100m IM titles to finish the meet with four wins, and in the process firmly cement herself as one to watch for the Tokyo Olympics, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and an exciting future ahead.

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Games Australia Athlete Advisory Group co-chair Matt Levy also tore up the pool, setting new world records in the SB6 100m breaststroke and 200m IM, as did former Kurt Fearnley Scholarship recipient Ricky Betar in the 200IM S14 class.



The limited competition available to track and field athletes in 2020 still witnessed Australian record performances from Jessica Hull (1500m, 3000m, 5000m) and Stewart McSweyn (1500m, 3000m) who both re-wrote the record books during a short international athletics season. And with domestic competition returning gradually across Australia, promising performances point to a bright summer of athletics.

But on the other end of the athlete career spectrum, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, has seen a number of athletes reconsider their futures and make the tough decision to retire from their sports.

Athletes such as Hockeyroos veterans Jodie Kenny and Karri McMahon and cycling star Steph Morton have called time on their careers in recent weeks, citing the uncertainties which still exist in the new COVID-19 world as a reason to end their career, a decision Thomas believes could not have come easily for them.



“Planning for anything at the moment is really challenging… we are doing well in Australia with the virus, but the rest of the world is a different story,” Thomas said.

“Certainly, it’s disappointing that some athletes who would have been priming themselves perhaps to have their last competition in Tokyo this year have decided not to hold on for another year.

“But I understand and respect that decision because the level required to be going to an Olympics, Paralympics or Commonwealth Games, you need to commit yourself 100%, so if you can’t do that then you’re selling yourself short to push on.

“But in saying that the postponement of the Games also gives those who are still targeting Tokyo and beyond that extra time to prepare and deal with any injuries or any other issues… that’s certainly a positive that the athletes can take from 2020, that they have got extra preparation time.”

With less than 250 days until the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, and just over 600 days until the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Thomas believes the period between Tokyo and Birmingham is going to be “a bumper year of sport” and is excited by what is ahead.

“It is hard to believe we are at the end of 2020, already… I hope fingers crossed… I think everyone will have their fingers crossed… that 2021 will be a more positive year for us all and for the world as a whole,” Thomas said.

“We can only plan for what we know at this stage, but we are being told that Tokyo is going ahead and followed by Birmingham a year or so later, that’s really exciting and something to look forward to.

“The resilience that has been built up by athletes and coaches and administrators this year by dealing with such uncertainty I think leaves us all in good stead heading into the future.”



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