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Gold Coast athletes of influence – Part 1

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In this two-part interview, Gené Stephan profiles 12 of the Gold Coast’s most revered sporting greats. Here, we bring you the first six athletes…

Relative to its modest population of just over half-a-million people, the Gold Coast has for many years punched way above its weight in producing world class athletes – from surfing pioneer Wayne Bartholomew to motorcycling great Mick Doohan and swimming superstar Grant Hackett.

Big names who proudly represent the Coast on the world stage today include former world No.1 golfer Adam Scott, six-time surfing world champion Stephanie Gilmore and Olympic, Commonwealth Games and World champion hurdler Sally Pearson.

Many of them were born and bred here but others moved to the Gold Coast during their formative years. Individual athletes, wanting to take advantage of the climate, facilities and quality of life have made the move deliberately.

As far back as the London Olympics in 1948, Gold Coasters have represented Australia with distinction at the Games.

That representation peaked in London in 2012 with 43 representatives followed by Rio in 2016 with 32 athletes.

Scott, Australia’s only US Masters champion, travels the world to some of the most spectacular and iconic locations, but still returns home to the Gold Coast every summer.

“The lifestyle on the Gold Coast is amazing and my caddie Steve Williams, who travelled all over the world with Tiger Woods for 12 years, also thinks so,” Scott said.

“You can get up at six in the morning and go to the beach for a run, swim or surf and the conditions are absolutely perfect every time.

“It is a wonderful way of life and for me it will always be home, no matter where I am or what I am doing.”

He said there are a huge number of sporting superstars on the Coast who live here because of the wonderful facilities – and in his case the magnificent golf courses.

“Living here certainly helped my and (current world No.1) Jason Day’s development.”

Two-time triathlon world champion Emma Moffatt said there was nothing better than a long Sunday morning run on the Gold Coast.

“A two-hour training stint, either along the beach or out in the bush up in the hills, is the absolute best,” she said.

She values, more than anything else, the Gold Coast weather and diversity of training locations especially when a typical week of training consists of 25km swimming, 80km running and 300km cycling.

The Gold Coast has become a training destination of choice for national and international sporting teams, offering not only world-class facilities, but a unique and enviable lifestyle and range of activities beyond sport.

It has a natural playground of beaches, waterways, world heritage rainforests, shopping, dining, health retreats, theme parks and casino.

More Gold Coast has compiled a list of modern-day sporting superstars who represent this special South-East location on the world stage. This week we reveal the first six names – in no particular order…

Sally Pearson | 30, Athletics

Pearson is one of Australia’s greatest ever Olympic athletes and one of the world’s fastest 100m hurdlers of all-time.

At the 2012 London Olympics she joined a select group of nine other Australian women to win gold on the track, smashing the Olympic record in the process – a record she still holds.

A year earlier at the world championships in Korea, the Gold Coaster confirmed her place in history by clocking 12.28 seconds in her pet event – just .07 seconds outside the world record – to claim victory.

She was subsequently named as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Female Athlete of the Year. At home in 2014 she was a recipient of the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for her contribution to sport.

At the Commonwealth Games she has won consecutive gold medals and a bronze as a member of the 4x100m relay team in Melbourne in 2006.

Pearson spectacularly tripped during the 100m hurdles final only to take her place in the relay the following day despite being battered and bruised from the fall.

Stephanie Gilmore | 28, Surfing

Stephanie Gilmore ranks alongside contemporary Layne Beachley as the two greatest female surfers of all time winning 13 World Surf Tour crowns between them.

Gilmore is chasing her seventh world crown having previously won the title in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014.

As a teenager she started competing in World Tour events as a wild card entrant winning her first title on home soil at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast as a 17-year-old.

In 2007, her first year on the main tour, she won four of out of eight events to claim her first World Tour title – the first rookie, male or female, to do so.

This was followed up by three consecutive world titles – an accomplishment no other surfer has achieved in the sport’s history.

Beyond her six world titles, Gilmore has also won 24 individual event titles.

She was inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame in 2010 with the crowning glory that year, the Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year – the most prestigious individual honour any action athlete can receive.

Other winners that year included sprint great Usain Bolt and tennis wonder woman Serena Williams.

Ken Wallace | 33, Kayaking

Wallace made history at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 by becoming Australia’s most successful male athlete by winning gold in the 500m sprint kayak and bronze over 1000m.

It was the first time a kayaker had excelled at two such varying distances and it is that versatility, at racing both the shorter and longer forms of the sport in single, double and four-man craft, that makes him one of the nation’s most distinguished athletes.

In winning gold at his first Olympics, Wallace emulated the feat of five-time Olympian Clint Robinson who won gold on debut in 1992, silver in 2004 and bronze in 1996.

With the K1 500m no longer an Olympic event, Wallace remains the reigning champion and record holder.

Robinson took his seat in a double kayak at the London Games four years later to finish fourth before joining forces with Lachlan Tame in Rio in 2016 to win bonze in a double kayak over 1000m.

A Gold Coast Lifeguard, Wallace only took up kayaking to enhance his ironman credentials in the surf.

He made his first major international appearance in 2006 and his results on the world stage have impressed year after year and has included four gold and a silver medal at the world championships in the last two years over distances ranging between 500m and 5000m.

He was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for his Beijing Olympic success in 2008.

Cam McEvoy | 22, Swimming

McEvoy is among a band of young swimmers who have plotted Australia’s return to the top of world swimming.

He has medalled at the world’s most significant swimming events – the Olympics, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific championships.

He became the first swimmer in history to win three freestyle titles over 50m, 100m and 200m at the Australian Championships in 2016 breaking the Australian and Commonwealth Games records over 200m.

The highlight of his career came at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games where he won six medals – two gold and four silver as a teenager.

At the world championships he won three silver and a bronze medal and at the Rio Olympics he won two bronze medals.

He is ranked in the top five in the world over all three sprint distances – the 50m, 100m, 200m and in the relays in the 4x100m freestyle and 4x200m medley relay.

He made his Olympic debut in London in 2012 as an 18-year-old where he helped qualify the 4x100m and 4 x 200m freestyle relay teams for the finals.

McEvoy re-wrote the Commonwealth and Australia record in the men’s 100m freestyle by winning in 47.04 seconds – the third fastest time in history and just 0.13 seconds outside of the world record set by Brazil’s Cesar Cielo in a now-banned super-suit in 2009.

Shannon Eckstein | 33, Surf Ironman

Eckstein is arguably the world’s greatest ever Surf Life Saver winning a sixth ironman world title in 2016.

Nationally there can be no dispute that he is the best of the best after winning a record eight Australian ironman crown in 2016 elevated him above names like Clint Robinson, Grant Kenny, Trevor Hendy and Ky Hurst.

His three gold medals at the Australian titles in the ironman, open surf race and surf teams race helped him overhaul Robinson’s record of 36 gold medals to become the most successful competitor of all time with 38 gold.

The Gold Coast has had a long and illustrious list of ironman champions, but any argument there may have been over who is the greatest of all, has been settled with Eckstein’s latest feat.

He holds every ironman record in the book – six world titles, eight Australian titles and nine Nutri-Grain Series titles.

Curtis McGrath | 28, Para-Canoeing

Curtis McGrath’s story is one of triumph over adversity which has inspired some of Australia’s highest profile Olympic and Paralympic athletes and will continue to do so in the lead-up to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

The Gold Coast para-canoeist was honoured as Australia’s flag bearer during the closing ceremony of the Rio Paralympics in 2016 after winning gold on debut in the sprint kayak.

The 28-year-old’s inspiring effort came just four years after his life took an unexpected turn, during a tour of duty in Afghanistan, when he lost both legs after stepping on an Improvised Explosive Device while on a clearance mission.

McGrath’s win came against the world’s most accomplished paddlers including six-time world champion Markus Swoboda of Austria.

McGrath headed into the Paralympics as gold-medal favourite after halting the Austrian’s unbeaten six-year run at the world championships in Germany during the lead-up to the Olympics.

He was a finalist for the Sports Australian Hall of Fame’s “Don Award” in 2016.

Click here for part two of this interview…

 

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