By ZAC STANDISH and LIAM DURKIN
OF the 487 athletes from 33 sports that will be representing Australia in Tokyo for the Olympics, Latrobe Valley locals will be watching the performances of three people even more closely.
Girl power will be on display as the Latrobe Valley trio of Aoife Coughlan, Jenna O’Hea and Teagan Micah fight to add to Australia’s medal tally.
All have worked incredibly hard to realise their Olympic dreams, and act as an inspiration to all youngsters in perseverance, commitment and determination.
Traralgon-born basketballer Jenna O’Hea will carry the ultimate honour of leading the country in her chosen sport, in what will be her second Olympic Games after making her debut at London in 2012.
The 34-year-old already has an Olympic bronze medal to her name, and as captain of the team, will take confidence into the games after the Opals defeated the highly fancied USA in an exhibition game just last week. O’Hea’s leadership qualities appear to be self-evident, as the team has stayed united despite the very public withdrawal of superstar Liz Cambage just days out from the games.
The Opals, who are ranked second in the world behind the US, have been placed in Group C along with Puerto Rico, China and Belgium.
O’Hea will be working closely with head coach Sandy Brondello, who said the team would be aiming to create their own piece of history.
“This Opals playing group are going to Tokyo wanting to win Australia’s first ever women’s basketball gold medal at an Olympic Games and we have the talent to do it,” she said.
“We know our effort and execution needs to match our ambition and we look forward to making Australia proud in Tokyo.
“An Olympic campaign is always tough and all three groups pose their own unique challenges. It’s certainly good to know who we are playing in the preliminary round and from a coaching point of view, we can gather information and start scouting those teams. However, our primary focus is on ourselves and being the best we can be, leaving no stone unturned in our preparation and peaking at the right time.”
Playing as a guard and forward, O’Hea has been a mainstay in the Australian team since 2009 and also won gold at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018.
FELLOW Traralgon local Aoife Coughlan will make her Olympic debut at Tokyo in the sport of Judo.
Hailing from Irish parents Paul and Jean and following in the footsteps of her brother Eoin, who attended the 2016 Games in Rio, Aoife will continue her family’s Olympic legacy when she hits the mat later and serves as one of just a handful of Latrobe Valley born athletes flying the flag for the region on the global stage.
Coughlan said it was a surreal feeling to finally be recognised as an Olympian.
“I still don’t have a great answer for that question to be honest, it is something I have been working towards for a long time and something I have wanted for a long time so it can be a bit difficult to put it into words,” she told The Express.
“It is so exciting and I am just so proud to be part of the Australian team.”
Tokyo had always been a long term goal for Coughlan, with the games falling perfectly in the middle of her prime age bracket.
The 25-year-old outlined her mindset heading into this period and the setbacks that COVID caused her in achieving her dream.
“For me Tokyo was the first one I had a proper run at, I was still young and developing prior to Rio so I went on all the preparation camps with those Olympians but 2020 was my goal,” she said.
“(COVID) was a pretty big hurdle in the process and caused a massive break in competition, specifically being from Victoria we were in lockdown for an extended period compared to the rest of the country so it was mentally quite draining.
“However, at the end of the day it was a bit of a blessing in disguise because it was the longest period I have got to spend at home in the past two years and I really got to concentrate on my strength and fitness as well as my technique – so when we were able to restart competition I had a power of work behind me and I ended up performing a lot better.”
A talented multi-sport athlete all through her childhood, Coughlan said growing up in the Latrobe Valley laid a solid foundation in her pathway to the elite level of Judo.
“I played heaps of sports when I was younger but Judo was always a family thing for me, my parents met through Judo in Ireland so when they moved to Australia they found a club near Traralgon which they got involved in and put my two older brothers into, and being a younger sister all you want to do is follow your older siblings around,” she said.
“I started with the Yinnar and District Judo Club and then moved to the Traralgon Judo Club and they gave me a great base in the sport to build on so when I finished high school I moved to Melbourne and started training at the Resilience Training Centre with four-time Olympian Daniel Kelly who then became my coach and refined my skills to push into higher grade competition.”
ROUNDING out the Valley representatives in Tokyo will be Moe-born soccer goalkeeper Teagan Micah.
The 23-year-old will take a place in the Matildas’ squad as the last line of defence between the sticks.
She made an excellent impression on international debut against Sweden just last month, an effort which saw her claim player of the match honours, and continued that good form into the team’s transition camp to earn selection as one of three goalkeepers in the 22-strong squad.
Micah’s soccer journey began at Moe United, where she played for three seasons before moving to Queensland at the age of 10.
On the eve of the Olympics, Micah spoke of her recent rise with ESPN.
“I’m still trying to grasp that. In a way it surprised me,” she said.
“But in a way it doesn’t because I know how hard I’ve worked. And I’ve had lots of different coaches’ influence me over this time and spent a lot of time away from home and things like that. So all those things. I feel like I’m getting rewarded for but I’m still just trying to keep my feet on the ground, honestly. It’s kind of crazy.”
Her focus is squarely on playing her role.
“I mean, obviously, it’s always nice to get minutes and especially because it’s an Olympic tournament, that’s massive,” she said.
“I think any way I can help the team is a success for me, whether that’s on the bench, pushing Lydia Williams, whether it’s me playing, I think that’s a success as well.”
Micah will have plenty of support at Moe United, with club president Reg Poxon saying it was incredible to see a local achieve such great things.
“Everyone at the club is proud to see a local Moe junior make it to the highest
professional level,” he said.
“To make her debut for her country and be named in the Olympics squad is a credit to how hard she’s worked.”
Poxon remembers seeing a young Micah at the club, with her skills between the goals clearly evident from an early age.
“From a young age, being one of the only girls in a team full of boys, you could see she had a fair bit of natural ability as a goalkeeper, which is rare at such a young age because goalkeeper is a difficult position to play,” he said.
“Teagan’s had some fantastic opportunities to grow and make it to the level she’s got to today … but all of this stems from her own drive and motivation to be the best she can be.”
The games of the XXXII (32nd) Olympiad run from July 23 to August 8.