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We go to Rio

20 April 2016

The 2006 Rio games included athletes from the University of Sydney. Many of these high achieving athletes were also gifted students balancing their ambitions for the Rio games with the demands of their study and course work.

As the world turns its gaze to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, five University of Sydney students are going for gold – while studying hard. Meet the University of Sydney students you may see on the podium in Rio later this year. 

Michelle Jenneke

Michelle Jenneke Photo: Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness

Michelle Jenneke, hurdler 

Bachelor of Mechatronic Engineering, fourth year

Michelle Jenneke is a bona fide YouTube sensation. A quick warm-up pre-race ‘jiggle’ at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona in 2012 turned the young hurdler into an overnight star with 27 million views - at one point gaining 2 million hits per day.

“It’s not something I thought would happen - people recognising me on the street or little athletes coming to me on the track wanting to get my photo,” the 22-year-old says. “All of that has been pretty surreal.” 

Jenneke has since moved from jiggling to juggling, managing a full training schedule alongside her mechatronic engineering studies. The hands-on course has seen her design robots and code systems. 

With an Olympic qualifying time already secured and a personal best in the 100 metres of 12.82 seconds - the second fastest time by an Australian women’s hurdler ever recorded, behind Sally Pearson - Jenneke now needs to impress at Olympic trials in April to book her ticket to Rio. 

“In the next couple of years I’m obviously looking to finish my degree and also to keep running,” Jenneke says. “I’d love to keep going until the next Olympics in Tokyo. So that’s where I’m at: I’ll keep getting faster and smarter.” 

Joshua Clarke

Sprinter Josh Clarke (centre)

Joshua Clarke, sprinter 

Bachelor of Commerce, second year

Joshua Clarke was five years old watching the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney when his dream was born. Sixteen years later, the sprinter is well on his way to joining his running icons.

In March 2015, Clarke won the Open Nationals with a time of 10.19 seconds, earning him the title of “Australia’s Usain Bolt”. 

He has since gone from strength to strength: after achieving an Olympic-qualifying time at the ACT Championships in February 2016 with a personal best of 10.15 seconds, Clarke will become the first Australian male to compete in the 100-metre sprint since the Athens Games in 2004. 

Clarke joins his personal heroes Matt Shirvington and Patrick Johnson on the list of Australia’s fastest men. Yet he laughs at the parallels. “My friends and family still treat me just the same,” the 20-year-old student from Bella Vista, in Sydney’s north-west, says. “It’s nice, but I try to go about my business as if I were a normal athlete.” 

Preparing for Rio with daily six-hour training sessions, Clarke is busy timekeeping both on and off the track. He plans to turn his number-crunching skills into a career through a commerce degree. 

“It’s good getting exposed to all the different aspects of commerce,” he says. “Accounting is probably my favourite.” 

Clarke is determined to make his hard work count. “My mum and dad [have] sacrificed so much for me since I could put on a jersey,” he says. “It would be nice for them to see their efforts haven’t gone unrewarded.” 


Rugby player Chloe Dalton

Chloe Dalton, rugby sevens 

Bachelor of Applied Science (Physiotherapy), fifth year 

“Laying your body on the line” may read as sporting hyperbole, but it could be the title of Chloe Dalton’s autobiography. 

The gifted sportswoman’s rapid, 180-degree switch from basketball to rugby sevens two years ago came at an immense physical cost. Last year the 22-year-old made headlines after playing 12 games - or two entire tournaments - in London and Amsterdam with a fractured forearm. It was the second break to her left arm since an initial fracture the previous year. 

“I think because Olympic qualification was on the line, I was so focused on trying to get the team through those couple of tournaments,” Dalton says. “The adrenaline of it all seemed to help, but it pushed my rehab back a fair bit.” 

Dalton fractured her arm again in December 2015. But just weeks after her latest operation, the tenacious athlete is already back in the gym preparing for Olympic squad selections in July, all while putting her physiotherapy studies to good use throughout her own rehabilitation. 

“I feel like it would be such an incredible honour to wear the green and gold at the biggest sporting event in the world,” she says. “It would be the pinnacle.” 


Basketballer Katie-Rae Ebzery (with ball)

Katie-Rae Ebzery, basketball 

Bachelor of Education (Human Movement), third year 

As Katie-Rae Ebzery’s voice crackles down the line of a Skype call from Brazil, there’s just a hint of fatigue. The 26-year-old has just endured a 30-hour flight to Rio to prepare with the Opals, the Australian national women’s basketball team, for a whirlwind Olympic test against Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela. 

Ebzery and her teammates are already proving hugely popular off-court among the home crowd. 

“We can’t go out walking too much - we stick out like a bit of a sore thumb at the moment,” says the 178 centimetre-tall guard, one of the shortest on her team. 

Having “grown up at the basketball court” - both her mother and cousin are former elite players - Ebzery aims to share her love for sport as a high school physical education teacher. 

“I love sport and the influence it can have on kids growing up,” she says. “Sport is a really good advocate for being sociable and teamwork and all of those values we want to instil in young kids.” 

When Ebzery made her Opals debut in August 2015, she helped the team beat New Zealand in the Oceania Series and gain Olympic selection. She now has a one-in-12 chance of joining the final line-up. “I just have to keep working hard and take my opportunities and really go for it,” she says. 

Te Haumi Maxwell swimmer

Swimmer Te Haumi Maxwell

Te Haumi Maxwell, swimmer 

Bachelor of Science, third year 

By the age of just 13, Te Haumi Maxwell was already being hailed as the next Ian Thorpe. 

Nicknamed ‘Tsunami’, the New Zealand-born student began making waves in the swimming world when he shaved almost three seconds off Thorpe’s time in the 50-metre freestyle at the same age level. 

“When I was younger I guess I didn’t understand the magnitude of that kind of title,” the 20-year-old says. “It didn’t hit me too much, but I guess as I got older I understood it.” 

Mounting a fresh campaign to become a Rio contender, Maxwell has been preparing with celebrated trainer Grant Stoelwinder, the former coach of swimming legends Geoff Huegill, Libby Trickett and Eamon Sullivan. 

From pushing himself to the limits in the water, it follows that Maxwell is fascinated by how the human body performs. “I’m quite interested in neuroanatomy and how the brain works, even though it’s quite annoyingly complicated at times,” he laughs. “My plan would be to try to get into medicine after graduating. I’ll try to keep my doors open to future studies.” 

There are high hopes for Maxwell, and he is unwavering in his mission to excel both athletically and academically. “It will be a tough haul, but no one said it would be easy, so I may as well grab the bull by the horns and try my best.


Elite Athlete Program

The five Olympic hopefuls in this story and many other gifted University athletes have been part of our Elite Athlete Program. Participants are offered support such as financial assistance, tutoring, travel grants and counselling. 

So far, the program has helped about 400 students from more than 35 sports. Started in 1990 by Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness (SUSF), the program helps participants achieve their very best, both athletically and academically. If you were an Elite Athlete, please share your story with us:

Written by Emily Jones (BA (Media&Comm) ’12)
Photography by Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness and Getty Images

Facts & figures

Our Olympic Honour Roll

  • Our first Olympian Nigel Barker who won bronze in 100m and 400m running events in 1906
  • Sydney 2000 Most successful Olympics with 4 gold, 4 silver and 2 bronze medals
  • 146 Number of University of Sydney Olympians
  • 58 Number of medals
  • 12 Number of Gold medals