UNITED WE STAND
In partnership with Sportscraft, the official formal uniform supplier of the Australian Olympic team, we get behind eight athletes bound for Tokyo and their messages of hope, spirit and camaraderie. By Jessica Montague. Styled by Kaila Matthews. Photograp
Looking back at early 2020, we can now say it was a lesson in resilience. No sooner had we recovered from that summer’s catastrophic bushfire season then Covid swept the globe, shuttering borders, forcing lockdowns, and eventually postponing the world’s largest community sporting event: the Olympic Games.
In its 125-year history, the Games has only ever been cancelled due to World Wars and the news came as a devastating blow to Australia’s athletes – men and women who had trained for countless hours, battled injuries, and made huge personal sacrifices all in the hope of proudly representing their country.
As we rejoin the other 205 nations and regions bound for Tokyo, it’s time for our athletes to step up and perform. But more importantly, it’s also time for us watching at home to unite behind our sporting heroes and rising stars like never before.
The adage goes that nothing unites people like sport, so in partnership with Sportscraft, the official formal uniform supplier of our Olympic team, Vogue wants to spread this message that we are stronger together. Here we’ve selected eight athletes who each have an inspiring story to tell about overcoming adversity, optimism and – above all – passion. They serve as a powerful reminder of not only the dedication and sacrifice needed to chase an Olympic dream, but the strength of the Australian spirit.
Jye Edwards, 23, athletics
If Tokyo had gone ahead as planned in 2020, Jye Edwards never would have made the team. “It wasn’t even a thought,” says the talented 1,500-metre runner, who has been plagued by ongoing lower leg injuries the past few years. “Even with the postponement I didn’t think much about it, because I didn’t think I’d be running like I am now.”
While he’s the first to admit his stellar form is down to timing (“I’m very lucky because there are people who it would be the opposite for … in great shape last year but might be injured now.”), it also took years of picking himself back up to get here.
“I could barely get more than three or four months of training in before I’d get injured again and have to start over,” he explains. “There were definitely times where I felt, is it even worth it?”
But the extra year of recovery and training has worked in Edwards’s favour, along with his determination. At April’s track and field trials, he caused a major upset after coming from behind to win the most anticipated race of the meet, beating Stewart McSweyn, the in-form triple Australian record holder.
“My coach had said, ‘You can beat these guys,’ but I was like, ‘We’ll see.’ I didn’t really believe it,” says Edwards, who will now turn focus to the “cutthroat” rounds at Tokyo.
Melissa Wu, 29, diving
Since coming to national attention as a 13-year-old at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Melissa Wu has been dazzling fans with her gravity-defying dives. If she makes the team for Tokyo (which she hopes to in the individual 10-metre platform), it will be her fourth Olympic Games, but it’s not been without setbacks.
“I haven’t competed now for about two years. I had pretty much every [injury] from head to toe and then came Covid in the second year. It was shoulder mainly, then a rib thing, always something,” she shakes her head. “But I’m feeling a lot more fit and ready now.”
Away from the pool, Wu also struggled with the mental side of sport, even though she may have always appeared calm and composed in competition.
“Confidence and self-belief are things I had to work really hard on as an athlete. They didn’t come naturally to me,” she says, explaining she now works with a mindset coach. “Having to work so hard at that mental side of things has made me realise it’s a whole other form of training you need as an athlete that isn’t covered in the day-to-day.”
While Wu won silver in the 10-metre synchronised dive in Beijing, individually she’s placed sixth, fourth and fifth respectively in past Olympic finals, but insists she isn’t putting pressure to redeem herself in Tokyo. “I try not to think too much about the medals,” she says. “A medal would equate to a really great performance and that’s what I want to put in. For me, that’s been the driving fact I’ve been chasing all these years. But definitely, I would love to put in the performance of a lifetime.”
Charlotte Caslick, 26, rugby
As a member of the 2016 gold medal-winning women’s rugby sevens team, Charlotte Caslick returns to the Olympics wanting to defend the title. “We know expectations are going to be high, but we have high expectations of ourselves anyway,” she says simply. “Every time you put on an Australian jersey, you carry the expectations of doing your country proud, and that’s what makes it so special.”
The team’s preparation has been less than ideal but Caslick says all countries have suffered. “I think we’re all just so happy it’s going ahead. Some of our girls haven’t been [to an Olympics] before, but we’re trying to prepare as best we can with what we’ve got and what we know is happening.”
She has a confidant in fiancé Lewis Holland, who is a member of the men’s squad. After the postponement of Tokyo, droughts in Queensland (where the couple run a cattle property in Stanthorpe), then pushing their wedding back a year due to Covid, Caslick says 2020 “felt like one stressful situation after another”.
She’s had enough reflecting and is even looking beyond Tokyo to the next Olympics in Paris. “We’ve got a really exciting group of young girls coming through that I really want to help mentor and be part of their progress,” she says. “I think we’re going to be really successful in the next few years.”
Bendere Oboya, 21, athletics
Undefeated on home soil over 400 metres after 26 races, Bendere Oboya is in the form of her life and itching to race overseas. “My coach said to me a few months ago: ‘You’re not here to volunteer, you’re here to compete’, and what’s what I’m going to do at the Olympics,” she says, words tumbling out almost as fast as she can run. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and getting on that world stage is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’d love to see how much I can improve because I know how much is in me.”
Oboya, who arrived in Australia with her parents as a toddler from Ethiopia, has been swatting away comparisons to Cathy Freeman since she was 16 when she sensationally lowered her time over the one-lap race from 75 seconds to 53 in one season.
“I get it that it’s something that sells the sport, but I just want to be the best version of myself. I want to be Bendere Oboya,” she says.
She’s adamant she’s yet to reach her peak. “For me, 51 seconds is not fast yet because I see my potential, but it feels good to be in that
“EVERY TIME YOU PUT ON AN AUSTRALIAN JERSEY, YOU CARRY THE EXPECTATIONS OF DOING YOUR COUNTRY PROUD AND THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT SO SPECIAL”