By Shelby Brooks

20 YEARS ago, the Sydney Olympics captivated Australia and the world.

Whether it was Ian Thorpe in the pool or Cathy Freeman on the track, Australians were glued to their television sets all month as the 632 Australian athletes competed for that all-elusive gold medal.

The opening ceremony made us proud to be Australian with highlights of en-masse tap dancing, stock horses, indigenous Dreamtime and of course Nikki Webster.

Dubbed the ‘friendly games’, Australia ended up winning 58 medals with 16 gold, finishing fourth in the medal tally behind the US, Russia and China.

This year, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was postponed earlier this year to July 2021, following the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was the first time in history that the games were postponed.

Looking back over the years, South Gippsland has birthed a number of Olympians.

Amanda Drennan is a two-time Paralympian originally from Cowes. She won a bronze medal as part of the Women’s 4 x 100 metre freestyle 34 pts event at the 2004 Athens Paralympics and represented Australia again in the pool at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

Belinda Snell is a three-time Olympian, hailing from Mirboo North. She represented Australia as member of the Opals, Australia’s Women’s Basketball team, and won silver at Athens and Beijing and bronze at London.

Cameron McKenzie-McHarg grew up in Leongatha and is a silver Olympic medalist. He boarded at Scotch College where he took up rowing. He won silver in 2008 Beijing and also competed in 2012 London.

Dale Stevenson represented Australia at the 2012 London Olympics. Born in Wonthaggi, Dale competed in the shot-put field event.

Drew Ginn grew up in Inverloch before heading to Scotch College where he found rowing. As a member of the Oarsome Foursome, Drew went to four Olympics winning three gold and one silver medal.

Eleanor Patterson represented Australia at the 2016 Rio Olympics in the high jump. The Leongatha girl did not receive a medal but she will be fighting once again in Toyko.

George Jelbart is another former Scotch College student turned Olympic rower from South Gippsland. George, originally from Leongatha South, competed in the 2004 Athens Olympics where he came 16th place in the lightweight double sculls.

Kayla McKnight made it to the semi-finals of 1500 metre track event at the 2012 London Olympics. Raised in Stony Creek, and a past student of Mark MacKillop Catholic Regional College, Kayla now lives in Leongatha.

Kevin Brislin of Mt Eccles competed in the cycling team pursuit at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
The team of four just missed out on a bronze medal to the Italian team in the semi-finals.
In 2000, Kevin was honoured with being a carrier of the Olympic Torch Relay for his contribution to the sport and the community.

Linda Ryan of Kardella South represented Australia at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in pistol shooting.
She competed in two pistol events, the 25-metre pistol and the 10-metre air pistol events at Sydney and the 2004 Athens games.

Michael Norton of Leongatha South represented Australia in the slalom at two winter Paralympics.
He won bronze in the 1992 Albertville Winter Paralympics in France and gold at the 1994 Lillihammer Winter Paralympics in Norway.

Russell Short has competed at eight Paralympics in three sports; discus, javelin and shot put. He first attended the 1988 Seoul Paralympics winning two gold medals and a bronze. Born in Poowong, Russell is legally blind. All up he won six gold, two silver and four bronze medals across the eight games.