The Weekly Advertiser Horsham

Nhill’s ‘golden girl’

- BY SARAH MATTHEWS

Nhill farmer Gus Stephan has likened the atmosphere in town last week to the buzz of September 1981, when the Tigers last won the Wimmera league grand final.

Instead of a premiershi­p, the town was celebratin­g the success of his daughter, Lucy, Nhill’s – and the Wimmera’s – first home-grown Olympic gold medallist.

Lucy’s women’s four team held off a fast-finishing Netherland­s outfit to win the 2000-metre final in a time of six minutes and 15.37 seconds.

Wednesday’s final marked the Aussies’ second Olympic-best time at the Tokyo games, after triumphing in their heat in six minutes and 28.76 seconds.

Mr Stephan watched the final at home at the farm with his wife Mandy, their son Oscar and Oscar’s girlfriend.

“I was the most nervous I’d ever been since Lucy rowed at school,” he said.

“I’ve watched her at world championsh­ips and been nowhere near as nervous as I was on Wednesday.”

Mr Stephan said it was a low-key day at the farm.

“Because of COVID restrictio­ns we couldn’t really do much,” he said.

“After the race we had a Rainbow pie for lunch – the pub wasn’t open.”

Mr Stephan later drove into town and was thrilled to discover many people were invested in the most important race of Lucy’s life.

“I’ve spoken to people from Nhill and everyone was glued to a television for the race,” he said.

“I reckon it’s the biggest buzz I’ve seen in the town since 1981, when

Nhill won the last grand final. The local pharmacy did up their window and that started the buzz. I think they were hoping other shops might follow suit.”

Nhill Pharmacy staff set up a ‘Go Lucy’ display in the front window in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Pharmacy retail manager Rachel Ansell said she and fellow staff were on the edge of their seats watching Lucy and her team-mates compete for gold.

“There were about four of us watching and we were all getting goosebumps and yelling at the TV – it was quite thrilling to watch,” she said.

“It would be very inspiring, especially for young people to see that someone born and bred in Nhill has gone on to succeed in such exciting ways.”

Mr Stephan said he visited the pharmacy to thank staff for their efforts and promptly ‘broke down’.

“I just got so emotional about what they had done – not so much for Lucy, but to bring the town together in tough times was really fantastic,” he said.

“That one shop-front really brought the town together.”

On his way into Nhill, Mr Stephan passed a road sign set up by J and A Spreading, featuring the words, ‘Congratula­tions Lucy, Nhill’s golden girl’. “I think that’s pretty great,” he said. “People driving through will now know that Lucy is from Nhill. She is our first home-grown Olympic gold medallist, which is really special – especially in times like this.

“It is tough times, with people locked down and not allowed to go out.”

Lucy paid tribute to her family and friends after her triumph, telling Channel 7, ‘I hope they’re all watching’.

“I went down that course thinking of them,” she said. “I’m just so excited to come from such a small place and work hard – it just proves if you set your mind to something, anything is possible.”

Lucy’s final was part of Australian rowing’s greatest day in Olympic history, with four medals including two gold in the water in Tokyo.

The men’s four team also won gold, breaking Australia’s run of three consecutiv­e silver medals in the event. It was the first time an Australian team had won gold in the women’s fours, which returned to the Olympic program in Tokyo.

Lucy, who claimed the victory alongside Rosemary Popa, Jessica Morrison and Annabelle Mcintyre, said the result was ‘surreal’.

“I can’t believe it’s actually happened,” she said after the race.

“When you’ve thought about it for so long you kind of expect you’d feel like a new woman, but I’m still the same old Lucy.

“You’re so proud of your country and during these times of the pandemic the extra year with what we’ve gone through as a nation and with all the lockdowns it’s tough, so the last 40 minutes has given everyone in Australia something to watch and I’m glad to be a part of that.”

Learning to row

Lucy, 29, grew up during a drought and learnt to row while boarding at Ballarat Grammar.

She has a swag of medals to her name, including gold at world rowing championsh­ips in 2019 and 2017 and silver in 2018.

She represente­d Australia in the women’s eight at the 2016 Rio Olympics after the team’s late call-up and has spent the past five years preparing for another crack at a medal, in Tokyo.

“Lucy’s dream, after her first year of rowing, was to row for Australia,” Mr Stephan said.

“Not long after that, it was that she wanted to row for Australia at the Olympics. Then it was to medal at the Olympics. But her dream for the past five years has been to win a gold medal, and that’s what she’s achieved.

“Now that she’s achieved that dream, it’s up to her to decide on the next one.”

Mr Stephan said he had spoken with Lucy several times since her win and the reality of her triumph was still sinking in.

He said he hoped to catch up with his daughter in person in the next few weeks, after Lucy completed two weeks of hotel quarantine.

He said Lucy would have some ‘down time’, which she would use to determine her next steps.

“Lucy’s been doing this for 10 years, since 2011, and it takes its toll,” he said.

“It’s a massive commitment and such a high-pressure environmen­t – to be the best of the best for so long, it’s a lot of mental pressure.

“She will work out what she wants to do next. Her partner lives between Nagambie and Melbourne and I know they are looking forward to spending more time with each other.”

Mr Stephan said outside of rowing, Lucy was in the process of becoming a qualified teacher and had also studied fashion design.

“Winning Olympic gold has definitely been driving her, but as to what’s next, we will have to wait and see,” he said.

“I think if the next Olympic cycle was four years, she might stop now. But it’s only two and a half then you’re going overseas to prepare, so time will tell.”

 ??  ?? STAMP OF APPROVAL: Australia’s women’s four rowing team, featuring from left, Nhill’s Lucy Stephan and team-mates Rosemary Popa, Jessica Morrison and Annabelle Mcintyre, feature on the latest Australia Post Australian Gold Medallist Stamps for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
STAMP OF APPROVAL: Australia’s women’s four rowing team, featuring from left, Nhill’s Lucy Stephan and team-mates Rosemary Popa, Jessica Morrison and Annabelle Mcintyre, feature on the latest Australia Post Australian Gold Medallist Stamps for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia