Highs and lows for Hunter Olympians

Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and the Hunter provided 11 members of the Australian team who competed

at the London Olympics. Herald Olympics reporter ROBERT DILLON reflects on their performances.

OUR BEST: The Hunter’s Olympic Games representatives, left to right, Angie Bainbridge; Iain Jensen and Nathan Outteridge; Suzy Batkovic; Thomas Fraser-Holmes; Richie Campbell; Benn Harradine; and Brendan Sexton.

NATHAN OUTTERIDGE and IAN JENSEN

Event: 49er class sailing

Result: Gold medallists

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HE mates from Wangi Wangi lived out their childhood dreams by winning an Olympic gold medal in commanding fashion. Competing in a 16-race series at Weymouth on the Devonshire coast, they racked up five wins, two seconds, a third, two fourths, a fifth, a sixth, two eighths, a ninth and a 10th. They were so dominant they had the regatta won by the end of the 15th race, which meant the final day of competition was a celebratory cruise. Their victory was especially memorable on two fronts. First, it was the inaugural yachting gold medal won by anyone from Lake Macquarie, which over the decades has been a sailing stronghold. It also represented the perfect redemption for Outteridge, who four years earlier returned from Beijing heartbroken after the skiff he was skippering with Ben Austin capsized on the cusp of victory, leaving them unplaced. No Olympic gold medals come easy. But few were as hard-earned or deserved as this one. Safe to say neither Outteridge nor Jensen had to buy a beer at the Cove House Inn last Wednesday night, which had become the unofficial home-away-from-home for the legion of family and friends cheering them on.

ANGIE BAINBRIDGE

Event: 4x200m freestyle relay

Result: Silver medallist

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he 22-year-old from Merewether arrived in London hoping to swim in an Olympic final. She did not realise that goal, but will return home to Newcastle with a silver medal in her swag. As was the case four years ago in Beijing, Bainbridge swam in the heat of the 4x200m relay, helping Australia finish as top qualifiers. But her time of 1minute 57.70seconds was the slowest of Australia’s four heat swimmers, and three changes were made to the line-up for the decider. Bronte Barrett, Melanie Schlanger, Kylie Palmer and Alicia Coutts duly finished runners-up in the final. Bainbridge received her silver medal not on the podium, but at a team function a few days later, when it was presented by former Australian gold medallists Kieran Perkins and Chris Fydler. She won a gold medal in Beijing in similar circumstances. No doubt on both occasions she would have preferred to compete in the final. But a gold and a silver medal from two Olympics is a pretty decent consolation.

SUZY BATKOVIC

Event: Basketball

Result: Bronze medallist

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ompeting at her third Olympics, Batkovic jokingly referred to herself as the ‘‘old duck’’ of the Australian team. But the 31-year-old showed she was still a class act, appearing in all eight games and proving she is still one of the world’s best players. Along the way she scored 88 points, behind only skipper Lauren Jackson and giant rookie Liz Cambage, and was second only to Jackson with her 48 rebounds. ‘‘Batgirl’’ produced her best display when the going was toughest. In Australia’s shock 74-70 overtime loss to France in their second group game, she scored 17 points and made 10 rebounds – both team-high efforts. Unfortunately for Australia, that loss meant they played the mighty US in the semi-finals, rather than the gold medal game. Instead they beat Russia 83-74 for the bronze medal, which will sit alongside the silvers big Suzy won in Athens and Beijing. Typically, Batkovic was heavily involved in the battle for bronze, contributing 17 points and eight rebounds in 19.22minutes. In all likelihood this will be her last Olympic campaign, and in years to come she deserves to look back proudly on it.

JENNI SCREEN

Event: Basketball

Result: Bronze medallist

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ike her long-time teammate Batkovic, 30-year-old Screen threw everything into what is expected to be her last Olympics. Her courageous effort in the semi-final loss to the US typified her body-and-soul attitude. After a heavy knock left her with a badly bruised eye and blurred vision, she was desperate to return to the match but wiser counsel prevailed. Screen needed X-rays for a possible fractured eye socket but was determined not to miss the bronze showdown with Russia. She duly played 26.06minutes sporting one heck of a shiner. As well as starting in all eight games of Australia’s campaign, Screen was the perfect role model for the rookie members of the Australian team. Opals skipper Lauren Jackson labelled Screen ‘‘one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,’’ such has been her positive energy and influence. Screen is pondering retirement, as she is keen to start a family. If London proves to be her swansong, she finished on a high note, and now has a bronze medal to accompany her Beijing silver.

SIMON ORCHARD

Event: Hockey

Result: Bronze medallist

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he Maitland midfielder stamped his class on the London Olympics, helping Australian win a consolation bronze medal that many expected would be gold. The Kookaburras lost only one game all tournament, but unfortunately it was the semi-final. The 26-year-old started in all seven fixtures, scoring two cracking goals, the second of which gave Australia first blood in their 3-1 win against Great Britain in the third versus fourth play-off. On both occasions, he immediately produced his trademark ‘‘Maitland Ram’’ celebration in recognition of his junior club. After 115games in the green and gold, Orchard is an established international and coach Ric Charlesworth insists his best is yet to come. By 2016, he should be a senior member of an Australian team desperate to exorcise their recurring Olympic demons.

THOMAS FRASER-HOLMES

Events: 200m freestyle, 400m individual medley, 4x200m relay

Results: 7th, 7th and 5th

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hen he is bouncing his grandchildren on his knee, Fraser-Holmes will be able to tell them how he raced against the greatest swimmer of all time, the incomparable Michael Phelps. And the 20-year-old from Charlestown was not content to merely make up the numbers. He reached the finals of his two individual events, the 200m freestyle and 400m IM, finishing seventh in both with times of 1:46.93 and 4:13.48 respectively. But he saved his best swim for the final of the 4x200m relay. As Australia’s lead swimmer, he produced a personal-best time of 1:46.13 to have his team in second place. They finished a creditable fifth. Now bursting with self-belief, Fraser-Holmes wishes he could fast-forward the next four years and compete at Rio de Janeiro tomorrow. By the time the next Olympics roll around, he will be at the peak of his powers. Already he has set his sights on medals.

RICHIE CAMPBELL

Event: Water polo

Result: 7th or 8th

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ompeting at his second Olympics, Campbell was a mainstay in Australia’s eight-game campaign. His cause was not helped when he was poked in both eyes against Kazakhstan in round two, which left him with a scratched retina and blurred vision. Campbell’s personal highlight was scoring two crucial goals in the do-or-die group game against Greece, which the Sharks won 13-8 to reach the quarter-finals, where Serbia beat the Sharks 11-8. Australia were competitive in most of their games but struggled to fight back whenever their opposition established a lead. At 25 and after 145 international games, the centre back from Merewether is already a senior player in the Australian team. If he continues through until Rio de Janeiro, by then he will be a real team leader.

BENN HARRADINE

Event: Discus

Result: 9th

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ig Ben is one of London’s iconic landmarks. Unfortunately ‘‘Big Benn’’ was not the same towering presence at his second Olympics. The 29-year-old giant from Eleebana realised one of his goals by reaching the 12-man discus final, a feat beyond 30 other qualifiers. But he was then disappointed that after his first three throws in the decider, he missed the cut to the final eight, who receive another three throws. Harradine’s three efforts in the final of 58.24metres, 63.16m and 63.59m were well below his best. He actually threw 64m in the heat. His personal best of 67.53m was only marginally behind the Olympic champion, Germany’s Robert Harting (68.27m). Knee and back injuries restricted Harradine leading into the Olympics and did not help his cause. But London still represented a significant improvement on his performance at Beijing, where, weakened by illness, he missed the final after throwing 58.55m to place 31st. Harradine believes he can be a contender at Rio de Janeiro, but acknowledges he needs to start throwing big distances consistently, rather than every now and again.

BRENDAN SEXTON

Event: Triathlon

Result: 35th

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he Maitland triathlete knew he needed to produce the race of his life to feature on the podium in London. Unfortunately, from the outset, circumstances conspired against him. Sexton got stuck behind the pack in the 1.5km swimming leg, eventually emerging from the murky waters of the Hyde Park ‘‘Serpentine’’ in 48th place, in a time of 18.53. He was already almost two minutes behind the leaders. The 26-year-old did his best to peg them back in the 43km cycling leg, posting the 17th-best time of 58.51. He finished with a 31.41 split for the 10km run, which left him in 35th position overall. He was 4:11 behind overall winner, Great Britain’s Alistair Brownlee, and has no doubt he will be better for the experience come Rio 2016.

DANIEL REPACHOLI

Events: Air pistol shooting

Results: 28th (10m), 19th (50m)

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he mine-truck driver from Nulkaba missed out on the finals of both his events, which were won by Korean Jongoh Jin. He scored 575 of a possible 600 in the 10m qualifiers and 557 in the 50m. Repacholi, who won a gold medal at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, was disappointed but is confident he will have a chance to make amends. London was his third Olympics. At 30, he has time on his side. Aussie veteran Russell Mark, 48, was at his sixth Games. Repacholi could have similar longevity. Let’s face it, shooting is not the most physically taxing sport. He will have further chances to become top gun.

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