Four Quarters – The Valley’s Olympic athletes

Bronzed Aussie: Tim Forsyth put Thorpdale on the world map at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

WITH country football again on hiatus, the Four Quarters team thought it would change tact slightly this week.
The Olympics are underway, and as such an array of sports will dominate newspapers and television screens for the next few weeks.
Many readers may have fond memories of the torch relay making its way through the Latrobe Valley for the 2000 Sydney games.
An estimated 15,000 people saw the torch arrive at Kernot Hall, Morwell and 10,000 packed the Joe Carmody Athletics Track in Newborough as the community cauldron was lit.
Due to the Sydney games commencing on September 15, local football grand finals had to be brought forward.
The Gippsland League played its decider on September 9 while the North Gippsland Football-Netball League held its grand final at the incredibly early date of August 12.
So, with the Olympics in mind, here are some home-grown athletes to have represented Australia on the world stage.
1. Tim Forsyth (Thorpdale)
IN an area where the majority of people are seen jumping down from tractors and trucks as opposed to jumping up, it seems incredibly bizarre to think the tiny country town of Thorpdale produced an Olympic high jumper.
That was indeed the case for Tim Forsyth though when he claimed a bronze medal in the 1992 Barcelona games with a jump of 2.34 metres.
Taking up athletics while a student at Trafalgar High School, the region was swept up in Olympic fever at the time. Giles Arcade Trafalgar was decked out in green and gold, while staff and students from Trafalgar High were glues to the television screen.
At just 18 years of age, the 1.99 centimetre Forsyth’s emotions went from disappointment to euphoria in the final when a scoring error was detected after his third and final jump at 2.37 metres took him to third place and a bronze medal.
The achievement meant Forsyth became the first Australian to win an Olympic medal in high jump for 36 years.
For a brief period he made potatoes the second most famous thing to come out of Thorpdale, and he was greeted to a hero’s reception when he returned home as some 60 residents lined his driveway.
Parents Jim and Jan were in Barcelona during the final, and according to grandmother May Forsyth of Thorpdale were “almost speechless” when they phoned through.
After 1992 Forsyth featured in two more Olympics and won gold at the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
He beat his own Australian record when he cleared 2.36m which to this day has only been equalled.
Interestingly, the man who equalled that mark is Brandon Starc, brother of the Australian cricketer.
Forsyth’s father Jim played 29 games for Essendon and coached Thorpdale, Drouin and Trafalgar, leading the Blues to their last senior premiership in 1985.
The senior Forsyth was still living in Thorpdale until retiring and selling his farm two years ago.
Sport: High jump.
Olympics: Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000.
2. Julian Paynter (Moe)
LONG distance runner Julian Paynter lived in Moe and represented Australia at the 1996 games in the United States city of Atlanta.
He was eliminated in the semi-finals of the men’s 5000 metre at the games after setting a personal best of 13 minutes-24 seconds a year prior.
Born in Edinburgh, a hamstring injury prevented Paynter from going to the Sydney games, but he was given the honour of carrying the Olympic torch through Moe and Newborough in 2000.
“Not many people get to carry the Olympic torch and few get to light the community cauldron, so it is definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life,” he told The Express at the
The Express dedicated eight pages to the torch relay in its August 10, 2000 issue.
In Morwell, Senior Sergeant John Brookes lit the community cauldron at Kernot Hall, as players from the Morwell Football Club Thirds formed a guard of honour for Brookes, who was their coach at the time.
A huge fireworks display followed the occasion at Kernot Hall.
The Latrobe Valley had a striking presence in Sydney, as it supplied buses with Latrobe City branding to help get people around.
Sport: Long distance running.
Olympics: Atlanta 1996.
3. Belinda Snell (Mirboo North)
AUSTRALIAN basketballer Belinda Snell enjoyed a prolific career, winning multiple Olympic medals with the Opals.
Hailing from Mirboo North, Snell won silver in 2004 and 2008, followed by a bronze in 2012.
Playing as a guard and forward, Snell was a key contributor to the Opals, who reached the gold medal play-off at successive Olympics.
Away from the Olympics Snell also won gold medals on home soil at the Melbourne 2006 and Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
At club level Snell has put together a sizeable CV, highlighted by a WNBA championship in 2007.
She is perhaps best remembered for a ridiculous clutch moment at the London 2012 games. With Australia looking like they were headed for certain defeat she famously hit a miraculous three-pointer from beyond half way in the preliminary match against France to force the game into overtime – the ball was literally in mid-air as the final siren blew.
Sport: Basketball.
Olympics: Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012.
4. Gavin Chester (Sale)
CLUTCHING at straws a bit with this left field selection, but happy to include it for the story alone.
Equestrian show jumper Gavin Chester does have some connection to the Latrobe Valley, being the cousin of Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester.
Gavin Chester’s road to the 2000 Olympics was unique in the sense that he had to wait 20 years to make his debut.
“I was pretty lucky I got to go to the Sydney Olympics,” he said.
“I actually first got picked for Moscow in 1980 when I was 20, but we didn’t get to go because the government wouldn’t let us (because of the boycott following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan). So it took 20 years for me to get the opportunity to go again.”
As his Olympic dream was snatched from his grasp all those years ago, the Sydney games presented an extraordinary postscript, as Chester competed at the ripe old age of 41, making him one of the oldest competitors on show.
Olympic equestrian events are unique in a way, as the athletes’ path to entry depends mostly on the quality of horse they have at their disposal.
“Getting to the Olympics a lot of things need to line up – you to have a good horse at the right time and it needs to be sound and healthy and performing well as you do as a rider,” Chester explained.
“That’s why horses are so expensive, because there are families if they’ve got to pay $5 million for their daughter to go to the Olympics, they’ll do it.
“You know at any given time if you’ve got the right horse and a lot of times throughout the years riders have been capable – they just haven’t had the right horse – so it’s quite brutal in that regard.”
While at the Olympic Village Chester ran into some prominent names, including tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, who he simply described as “bloody huge”.
Sport: Showjumping.
Olympics: Sydney 2000.
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Crowd of thousands: Former Moe resident and Olympian Julian Paynter carries the torch through Joe Carmody Athletics track, Newborough in the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 games.