The state is rich in past, present and future athletes, with multiple Olympic champions and finalists, top 10 world rated runners and field exponents. But who was best?
Cathy Freeman. Those two words conjure up a remarkable moment in Australian sporting history when the slightly built Freeman carried the weight of expectation on her shoulders to win the Sydney Olympic Games 400m gold medal. All this from a little girl from coastal country Queensland who came to the big smoke via Kooralbyn International College and Toowoomba’s Fairholme College. With coach Mike Danila pushing her, Freeman’s first foray into world athletics came at the 1990 Commonwealth Games as a 4x100m relay runner. Then, by the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Freeman was an outright gold medal winner in the 200m. By 1996 Freeman was an Olympic Games silver medallist (400m) and from that platform she rose to sustain a No. 1 world ranking across the 1997 and 1999 world championships (gold medals at both), and famously at the Sydney Olympics (400m). Freeman not only beat the best in the world in Sydney, but she did it with a nation on her back. It was a remarkable performance.
The great Sally Pearson has a glittering trophy cabinet to match anyone in the world. But what cannot be seen by merely looking at her array of world and Olympic Games medals is the 100 per cent commitment she has to the sport. Pearson was a true student of her craft and that is what made her so successful. She made tough decisions that others would not, and that helped push her above the pack. Pearson’s career started at Helensvale Little Athletics Centre and while she was at primary school, renowned coach Sharon Hannan noted her potential.
Pearson was a London Olympic Games (2012) gold medallist and the 2011 and 2017 world championship gold medallist. She also won a silver medal in the 100m hurdles at the 2008 Olympics and prior to that at the 2013 world championships.
Long jumping Jai Taurima cut a remarkable figure representing Australia at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. With thick, longish black hair and an earthy necklace, he looked a little like he had taken the wrong turn out of Nimbin and ended up in the middle of the Olympic Stadium by mistake. But he was all power and energy on the runway on route to winning a surprising silver medal with a personal best jump of 8.49m. Clearly using the crowd to his advantage, Taurima roared at the top of his lungs before starting his approach to the pit. Within an instant he was a national hero and will forever be etched in the memory of sporting followers who witnessed his emotional achievement that night. Well known within the wider athletic community, Taurima was first glimpsed by the general public two years earlier at the Commonwealth Games when he secured a silver medal.
GLYNIS NUNN CEARNS
Glynis Nunn is a Queensland sporting treasure whose rose from Toowoomba South State School to become an Olympic champion. A multi-talented athlete, Nunn rolled all her skills into one where she became an elite pentathlete. Initially she had disappointment after missing the 1978 Commonwealth Games because of injury, but by 1982 – competing in the revamped heptathlon – she upset the favourite to win gold. At her first world championships in 1983 Nunn was a top seven finisher which gave her a platform heading into the 1984 Olympic Games. Rarely in sport has competition been so close, but from out of the contest Nunn emerged to pip runner-up Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Remarkably Nunn’s all around skills were also evident when she placed fifth in the 100m hurdles and seventh in the long jump. Two years later Nunn, running as a hurdles specialist, won a bronze medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games.
Yet another Brisbane Boys College old boy, Watt was the first Australian long jumper to medal at a world championship after a bronze medal winning effort at the 2009 titles. Two years later Watt went one better with a silver medal performance at the 2011 world championship. Watt was able to hold that form against the best in the world to infact be the second best in the world at the Olympic Games 12 months later with another silver medal winning effort. A multi-talented sportsman who dabbled with rugby union and Australian football as a junior, Watt still holds the Oceania record for the long jump – 8.54m.
Bird-Smith is Queensland’s greatest race walker and one of the finest Australian athletes of all-time. Bird-Smith came from good stock, with his father David an Australian Olympic walker. At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the lean Bird-Smith snared the bronze medal, with that medal reward for his years of toil representing Australia across three world championships and at IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships. He was also one of the stars of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast when he won a gold medal, sparking emotional interaction with family, supporters and the general public.
Stone is one of Queensland’s finest sportspeople – in any discipline – who won the silver medal at the 1997 world championships. The two-time Olympic Games representative also did her country proud at the Games.
Yet another elite sporting talent from Rockhampton, Thompson is a long jump wonder who holds the Commonwealth and Australian record and who rose to as high as No. 2 in the world. She is a three-time Olympian in long jump having competed in Sydney 2000 Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. Her best Olympic result was in Athens when she finished fourth in the final behind three Russians, but she was also a gold medal winner at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
BENITA JOHNSON WILLS
The Mackay-born Johnson Wills developed into one of Australia’s greatest female distance runners. She was both an Olympian and elite cross country runner who peppered the best in the world – and then beat them at the 2004 Brussels world cross country titles. That gold medal, and a bronze medal in the 2003 world half marathon championships, were tangible rewards for years of world class effort.
Genevieve Lacaze is a popular choice among our greatest on the strength of her consistency. Once best known for steeling the show when she jumped on stage at the 2014 Commonwealth Games to dance alongside Kylie Minogue’s dancers, LaCaze has become one of the world’s finest 3000m steeplechase and 10,000m exponents. She makes our the top 10 for a number of reasons, but most notably for her consistency. LaCaze, a John Paul College past student who grew up on the northern Gold Coast, has consistently finished around top 10 in the gruelling distance events for years. Sometimes athletes have peaks and troughs, they have a high then drop away before rising again, but LaCaze is consistent. She was also thrilled to be named Australian athletics co-captain of the team which went away to the 2019 world championships.
Article by The Courier Mail