Six Olympic debutantes will fly the UTS flag at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, which begin next Friday and run until August 21.
Representing the sports of water polo, taekwondo, rowing, hockey and beach volleyball, the athletes have realised hard-fought dreams in gaining selection. Two of them – water polo player Isobel Bishop and taekwondo champion Hayder Shkara – just missed out on a spot in the team that went to London in 2012.
Isobel Bishop, 23, received news of her 2016 Olympic selection in an unexpected phone call.
“We’d been told to have our phones on [to be told about who was in the team] so I was waiting for a call from our coach. Suddenly this unknown number flashes up on my mobile. I almost didn’t pick up because I thought it would be a telemarketer.”
She did answer though and took the most thrilling call of her life – from Bridgette Gusterson, captain of the gold medal-winning Australian women’s water polo team from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and her goalkeeper sister, Danielle Woodhouse.
The sisters were ringing to tell Bishop she would be one of six debutantes in the women’s water polo squad for the Rio games. All team members received a similar call from the player/s who wore their cap number in Sydney.
“Bridgette and Dani started introducing themselves but that was so unnecessary. I said to them, ‘I know who you are’.”
Bishop says the Olympic veterans gave her lots of good advice especially about managing pressure as competition progresses. The team, known as the Stingers, is regarded as a strong prospect for the gold medal.
“Basically, they were saying you just have to play your game; the opposition is not going to bring anything new that you don’t already know about so don’t be overawed.
“People talk about crunch games and pivotal moments but Bridgette and Dani were saying that no moment is more important than another.”
Adelaide-born Bishop is studying visual communications at UTS and is part of the university’s elite athlete’s program.
Hayder Shkara, 26, will compete in the 80kg category of taekwondo, having just missed the same division for London. Shkara completed a double degree in law and journalism at UTS in 2013 and works as a solicitor.
He is a founding member of The Youth Centre, a charity that provides tutoring, sports counselling and spiritual guidance for disadvantaged youth in south-western Sydney, where he grew up. The centre received a $100,000 grant as part of a Federal Government initiative to prevent violent extremism.
Genevieve Horton, 21, will row in the women’s double scull and is the youngest member of Australia’s rowing squad. She is studying part-time for a Bachelor of Management, majoring in event management. Horton made her international debut in 2013 and says she, like everyone selected, has worked “incredibly hard” to make the team.
North Sydney-born Nikki Laird, 23, will compete in beach volleyball, the sport she took up after growing too tall for springboard diving. She is a member of the UTS Beach Volleyball club, having been introduced to the sport when she attended a camp at Manly.
The Hockeyroos team for Rio has two UTS club members in its ranks: 23-year-old Georgina Morgan and 21-year-old Mariah Williams.
Morgan first picked up a hockey stick at the age of six in her hometown of Armidale, on the Northern Tablelands of NSW. She played her first international match at 17 and made her Hockeyroos debut in 2014.
Williams is one of the youngest players in the squad and has been part of the Hockeyroos since 2015. She grew up in the NSW Central West and comes from a hockey-playing family.
For more information about the Australian Olympic team, go to http://rio2016.olympics.com.au/.