This week everybody’s talking about... COMMONWEALTH GAMES
The Games will be in her own backyard, but the former Olympian is happy to be a part of it from dryer ground, writes Anna Brain
IT’S been 12 years since she last competed in the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Now a respected commentator, former Olympian Giaan Rooney says she doesn’t miss the pool, or the gruelling pace of training as an elite athlete.
“I’ve not swum a lap since,” she says. “I don’t even own a pair of togs that would allow me to do laps any more.
“But I actually feel that’s very healthy. I’m very grateful for my time, I owe swimming so much and it’s a huge part of me. But I don’t miss it.
“I feel more like a proud mum watching the athletes race, and I want it so badly for them. I know how much work has gone into what they do, but I have no desire to stand up there on the block and replace them.”
While many of her contemporaries have struggled with life after swimming, Rooney, now a mother of two, has built up an enviable career with Channel 7, with endorsements and ambassadorial roles on the side.
“I am one of the few that has been able to have a second chance at a great career in life after sport, and I don’t take that for granted. It can be taken away easily.
“There are many who have tried, and for whatever reason it hasn’t worked. I’m grateful every day for the life I’m living.”
From today, Rooney will be part of Channel 7’s dedicated Commonwealth Games commentary team, which includes Hamish McLachlan, Mel McLaughlin, Johanna Griggs, Jim Wilson and Todd Woodbridge to name but a few.
For the first six days she will focus on the magnificent pools at Southport’s Broadwater.
“For all the athletes, the biggest issue is that there’s no roof on the pool, and they’re used to having a roof on competition venues. But at the end of the day, everyone is dealing with the same conditions. So, if it’s raining, they’re all going to be dealing with the rain. If it’s glaring sun, they’re all dealing with glaring sun. It’s got such an Aussie feel to it. You certainly couldn’t have done that in Glasgow four years ago, or in Delhi before that. So I think it’s a good vibe.”
Rooney is reluctant to name her top picks in the pool, saying she doesn’t like to put additional pressure on them. But she says viewers should keep an eye on one swimmer in particular.
“For me, I think it’s safe to call her ‘comeback queen’, Cate Campbell. She took a year off last year just to reassess and find her love of the sport. She’s absolutely flying at trials a few weeks ago, there’s a new level of confidence in her. For me, she wins and wins easily.
“Definitely the 100m freestyle, maybe even a butterfly event as well, she’s that good.
“I had a little bit of a look, and on paper, for the top times swum in the world this year, Australians are ranked No. 1 in the Commonwealth nations in 21 events, which is huge. So obviously they all need to step up and deal with that pressure and expectation and perform on the day. The para athletes are also incredibly strong.
“We love the fact that the Commonwealth Games is the only major international event where our para athletes are involved with the able-bodied athletes, all in the same program together. Swimming is traditionally very strong at Commonwealth Games level, and I don’t think this year is going to be any different.
“I’d like to hear the national anthem sung at least five times.”
Everyone becomes a sports junkie during the Games, and Rooney is no exception. When the swimming is over, she’ll turn her talents to another, more unexpected sport.
“In the second six days I’m actually going to be doing a bit of work at the rhythmic gymnastics, and I haven’t ever been to a live gymnastics competition before,” she says.
“When they finish competing they come past and do a little interview. I don’t claim to be an expert, and I think people would laugh at me trying to be. But I’ll certainly try to cram in as much research as I possibly can.” And if her schedule allows, she wants to check out some unusual venues being used for the Games. “The squash facilities are in the big movie studios up here. The sound stages are being converted into squash courts, with big glass boxes. So I’m hoping my schedule allows me to get to as many different events as possible.” After growing up on the Gold Coast, Rooney moved to Melbourne for 13 years. She and husband Sam Levett moved back to the Gold Coast to be near her parents, who help out with son Zander, three, and Alexa, nine months. From a local perspective, she has watched preparations for the Games with interest. “The Gold Coast needed to grow up,” she says. “But it has done it so well I really do feel that we’re a world-class city and I can’t wait to show it off.
“So many of our roads have been upgraded, public transport, changes that will benefit the city in the long run. “On the Gold Coast we’re pretty lucky that we haven’t had that traffic of a Sydney or Melbourne before, and people are worried about that, because they like their normal pace.
“But for 11 days, I think we’re going to be OK. I remember before the Sydney Olympics the same thing happened, and before the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. People were like, ‘we’ve got to get out, it’s going to be horrendous’. And they’re the ones who felt like they missed out when everyone raved about it.”
CHANNEL 7 COMMENTATOR GIAAN ROONEY CAN’T WAIT FOR THE GAMES TO BEGIN. WATCH THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES on Channel 7, 7TWO and 7mate from today