Triathlete Emma Snowsill OAM was regarded as one of the fiercest competitors in the sport, a pocket rocket who possessed a disarming smile under which hid a fierce determination.
One of the best female Olympic distance triathletes of all time, Snowsill captured Olympic and Commonwealth gold and three world titles during a career that saw her retire having won more titles than any other woman in International Triathlon Union events.
Snowsill’s achievements will be celebrated at the 35th Induction and Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday, 10th October 2019 when she is inducted as an Athlete Member of The Sport Australia Hall of Fame and receives one of the highest honours that can be bestowed in Australian sport.
Emma Snowsill always wanted to be an Olympian.
Watching the Barcelona Olympics as an 11-year old she still remembers the cushion she was sitting on in the loungeroom on the Gold Coast as she watched the Australians splash their way down the Olympic pool at Montjuïc.
“I remember as a kid watching Susie O’Neill, Sam Riley and all the Australian swimmers, that was my sport at the time, I loved swimming,” Snowsill says.
“I recall the opening ceremony, the music, watching them on the podium when they won. And I think that’s when it (the Olympic dream) became more tangible.”
A sporting all-rounder, Snowsill also dabbled in tennis, basketball, ballet and skiing through childhood before being introduced to triathlon at 16, after being invited to do the swim leg of a team race at the Noosa triathlon.
She was hooked and her rise to the top was as swift as her run leg, a signature component of her swim-bike-run repertoire.
At 17 she wrote a submission to the Australian Olympic Committee’s Pierre de Coubertin awards titled “An Olympic Seed is Sown”.
“Just as a seedling struggles to break through the hard ground, so does a new batch of young people – a future crop of elite athletes, all with a vision germinating,” the high schooler wrote.
The seedling grew rapidly… winning her first national age title in 2000 and later that year the junior world title in Perth and the Australian Youth Olympic Festival the following year.
However, in 2002, her life was turned upside down by the death of her boyfriend and fellow triathlete Luke Harrop who was killed in a hit-and-run accident while on a training ride. Snowsill contemplated quitting the sport but after a break and solace and encouragement from Luke’s sister, star triathlete Loretta, she decided to keep going.
“You think about life obviously quite differently when you’ve been through those experiences as a young person and it was a very pivotal time in my life,” Snowsill says. “It really does show the strength and testament of Loretta as a character and as a person and it’s something that I will forever, forever be grateful for.”
By 2003, Snowsill won her first world title but she suffered a stress fracture of the femur during the Olympic trials, putting her out of contention for the Athens Games. She watched as Harrop led the Olympic triathlon into the final kilometre only to be surprised by the finishing burst of Australian-born and based Austrian Katie Allen, who charged home to win the gold.
Snowsill collected two more world titles – Gamagori, Japan, in 2005, and Lausanne, Switzerland in 2006 bookended a Commonwealth Games win on the streets of Melbourne in 2006. Snowsill was the first female triathlete in the world to win three world titles. She also won silver at the world titles in Hamburg, Germany, in 2007 and won the ‘grand slam’ of city triathlons in Chicago (2004 and 2008), Los Angeles (2006), London (2005) and New York (2007).
However, it was in Beijing in 2008 that Snowsill etched her name into Australian sporting history, claiming our first ever Olympic triathlon gold medal, women or men.
“I can remember being on the pontoon being very happy. I was the least nervous I’d ever been and it kind of worried me cause I’m like, shouldn’t I be the most nervous I’ve ever been? I just recall thinking, you know what, there is nothing to worry about. This is a swim, bike, run. It’s as simple as that. All I’ve got to do is put down the best race I can.”
Which she did.
Even a pre-race mishap by officials who accidently placed a barrier in front of her couldn’t stop her charge to the line.
“That was the only time my heart rate and my adrenaline really washed over me and I thought have I done something wrong? Can I be disqualified for this? It was the only time I let myself out of the tunnel vision I’d created.”
“And even when I saw the finishing straight, I almost felt that I wouldn’t actually make it if I switched off my brain yet. I thought all the pressure and emotion of putting everything, your heart and soul, into a race would be crippling and I would just lose the adrenaline, I would lose all my power and my speed, so I just kept the switch on the whole way.”
It was only after crossing the line that the expectations of being race favourite and achieving the holy grail for Australian triathlon was realised.
“We’d come so close, when I crossed the line, that’s when I really just let it go and thought, whoa, whoa, whoa. Have I, is this real now?”
In 2009 Snowsill was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to sport and in 2015 she was inducted into the ITU Hall of Fame and the Triathlon Australia Hall of Fame in 2017.
“It took a little bit to wash over me,” Snowsill says of the news of her Sport Australia Hall of Fame induction. The mother of two is now based in Gerona, Spain with husband Jan Frodeno who still races Ironman events. The German won the men’s gold in Beijing, which makes for a unique household – Olympic champions from the same sport and event from the same Games.
“They’re icons of our sport, even before I started it, you knew who they were, household names and people that have been real pioneers for our sport in Australia. So, to have my name up alongside them in this honour roll is something I’m proud of.”
Chair of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Selection Committee Rob de Castella AO MBE said: “In a sport where Australia has had so much success, Emma’s achievements and dominance on the world stage is absolutely outstanding, she’s done it all.”
Sport Australia Hall of Fame Chair John Bertrand AO said: “Olympic gold medallist, three times world champion, Grand Slam winner, her record says it all. Emma is a fitting inductee into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.”