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Meet The Golden Girls Making Their Olympic Debut

Maggie Gray | July 8, 2021

The Tokyo Olympic Games are finally here, and after a year-long delay, adrenaline is sky-high among athletes as they tackle the most anticipated Games to date.

A mighty 472 athletes have been named as part of the Australian squad, with Gold Coasters representing in an impressive cross-section of sports including swimming, cycling, paddle, diving, soccer, skateboarding, hockey, gymnastics, sailing and triathlon.

The Australian team has already chalked up a significant win of their own with over 53% of the team comprised of women – the greatest number of female athletes ever to compete for Australia.

We caught up with three Tokyo-bound local legends. Each are just twenty-three years old, making their Games debut, and are passionately paving the way for the future generation of female sport.

 

Natalya Diehm, BMX Freestyle

Ambrosia Malone, Hockey

Kirsten Kinash (right), Artistic Swimming

Natalya Diehm | BMX Freestyle

Ever since she can remember, Natalya Diehm has felt most at home on two wheels. This year, Diehm will make history as Australia’s first female Olympic BMX Freestyler – a feat she never thought possible when first hitting the BMX track at the age of eight.

Having weathered the storm of four knee reconstructions and multiple injuries, Diehm came dangerously close to pulling the pin on the sport, but was spurred on by support from fellow BMX riders – a community growing at a rapid pace on the Gold Coast and across the globe.

Aptly described as the ‘gymnastics of extreme sport,’ BMX Freestyle will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo, and for many, it will be their first time seeing the discipline in action. After a quick scroll through Natalya’s stunt-saturated Instagram, it is clear that the world is in for a trick-filled treat.

Natalya Diehm in Germany for the VANS BMX Pro Cup

How does it feel to be going to the Olympics?

ND: It feels insane. I don’t even know how to explain it, I’m just so happy and so proud of myself. Going through the injuries and hard times and to be able to inspire young women, and to showcase our sport on the biggest stage, is incredible. I never thought BMX freestyle would be in the Olympics and now that it is, the BMX scene is going to keep rising.

Is there added pressure to perform well knowing BMX Freestyle is making its debut at the Olympics?

ND: I’m putting a bit more pressure on myself to do well, but I think it motivates me more to be able to excite people and show people something they’ve never seen before. They’re just going to be in awe and go “what is this and how have we never seen it before?”.

What is BMX freestyle?

ND: If you can imagine a gymnast doing somersaults and spins on a trampoline or on the ground – that’s what we do on a bike. Our contest format for the Olympics involves two 60 second runs where we have to perform the best tricks possible. The judges will score us off how high we go, how fast we go, the difficulty of tricks, and how smoothly we land them.

How does it feel to be the only woman representing Australia in this sport?

ND: Crazy! When I was told I will be going down in history – it blew my mind. It gives me goosebumps because I’ve worked so hard to get here and just ride professionally that this is beyond anything I’ve dreamed of before. I can’t contain the excitement. Hopefully I’ll coach the next generation of riders and get to see their dreams come true as well.

What was it like growing up in a male dominated sport?

ND: Growing up and being the only girl, I didn’t really see the difference. I was young and just having fun with the boys and keeping up with them. It wasn’t until I got older that I realised how hard it was for women in this sport to break through.

 

Instagram: @_natalyadiehm

Diehm at the National Championships in 2021

Diehm winning the 2019 Vans BMX Pro Cup in the USA

 

What is the BMX culture like on the Gold Coast?

ND: The culture is growing. We are one big family. Everybody pushes each other and motivates each other to be the best they can. Even though it’s a competitive sport, everyone is super friendly. That’s why there’s such a big scene growing and so many good riders, because if you’re having fun, you’re going to do well.

 

“If there’s anywhere you want to be with BMX it’s here on the Gold Coast.”

 

Why did you first start training on the Gold Coast?

ND: To be able to progress in the sport, you need bigger facilities. I was born in Gladstone, but mum and dad would bring me down to the Gold Coast to train at the bigger facilities every school holidays. Having the world champion and really good riders living on the Gold Coast was really helpful. It made for a really good environment to motivate you to do better. The Aus Cycling base is on the Gold Coast too, so everyone you need to know and everyone you need to speak to is on the Gold Coast.

What’s your favourite thing about living on the Gold Coast?

ND: I love being close to the water, it makes me feel calm. I like to ride my bike by the beach, or just sit and take in the fresh air and have my thoughts to myself and relax. I live in Surfers Paradise, so the beach is just two streets away from me. I love how everything is so close on the Gold Coast.

Is there anyone in particular who motivated you to get where you are today?

ND: After my fourth knee surgery, I was calling it quits. I was out of the job because I couldn’t work – I kept asking myself why I was hurting myself for no reason. Then the Olympics got announced and Caroline Buchanan (eight-time world champion and two-time Olympic rider) – called me and said, “I really think you need to give this one more try”.

 

“I thought if she believes in me, then I need to believe in myself.
If it wasn’t for that phone call, I would just be working a normal job.”

 

Where has BMX taken you around the world?

ND: Living life normally and working a job I never really had the desire to travel much. When BMX took off for me, I travelled so much in one year it was mind blowing. I was in Japan, then I went to France, USA, Mexico, Germany and China.

What would you say to young riders looking to make it in BMX?

ND: I would say just remember to have fun. Remember why you do it, keep having fun and push through the hard times. There will be tough times, but it will be worth it in the end.

 

Ambrosia (Rosie) Malone | Hockey

Ambrosia Malone is a jack of all sporting trades. Growing up in the Gold Coast hinterland, Malone embraced the outdoors, and as a child, excelled in athletics, shredded at cross country, and kicked goals in international soccer tournaments.

After picking up her first hockey stick at the age of six, the writing was on the wall, and before long Malone became one of the youngest members of the Australian Hockeyroos – a team she had idolised her whole life.

On the field, Malone is tasked with the high-pressure role of scoring goals, but off the field, the self-appointed jokester’s goal is far from serious – keeping the team entertained and the good times rolling.

Ambrosia Malone competing in New Zealand with the Hockeyroos

How does it feel to finally be going to the Olympics?

AM: I’m just so thrilled that it’s actually going ahead, and we get to live out that dream that we were all hoping for last year.

How long have you been training for this?

AM: I started playing when I was six and when I was about 10, I got pretty serious about wanting to create this life for myself. To be able to say I’m going to be an Olympian – it’s incredibly rewarding after all these years of training.

What was it like growing up on the Gold Coast and how did that play a role in your passion for sport?

AM: Growing up I was doing soccer, athletics, cross country and anything I could get my hands on. The Gold Coast is amazing for the opportunities it can create for both junior grassroots and elite senior athletes. I grew up training with Brent Livermore, the ex-Kookaburra’s captain and an Olympic Gold Medallist. He coached me from the age of 12, so I was really fortunate to be able to train with him.

Was it hard being in a team sport and not being able to play as a team during Covid? How did you overcome this?

AM: It was very difficult. We are based in Perth most of the time.

 

“Everyone that knows me knows how much I hate living away from the Gold Coast. As soon as we were told the Olympics wasn’t going ahead… I jumped on the very first plane back home.”

 

A few years ago Gold Coast hockey donated some turf to me, and my mum, brothers and sisters helped make a mini hockey field at my house, so I was still able to do some stick work and training there. It definitely wasn’t the 2020 we thought it was going to be!

What position do you play and what is your role in the team?

AM: I am a striker and midfielder, and I guess my role is to score goals. Off the field, my role is the self-appointed jokester who keeps everyone happy and entertained and not so serious and focussed on the hockey!

 

Instagram: @rosie.malone

Rosie in the gym with teammates

Instagram: @rosie.malone

 

What’s your favourite thing about living on the Gold Coast?

AM: I am obsessed with the beach, I love swimming, I love laying on the sand and tanning. I love it all. I like the laidback attitude. I like that the Gold Coast is relatively small, and that you run into your friends quite often!

What’s been your career highlight so far?

AM: One moment I won’t forget was playing my first game at the World Cup in 2018. That was my first major tournament with the Hockeyroos. I remember being in London and there was a massive crowd and I remember standing in the tunnel just before we ran out.

 

“I remember thinking – I cant believe I’m about to run out onto this field with all these people I’ve grown up looking up to and idolising.

 

I scored my first goal in that first match. I think I smiled all the way back to the halfway. That was a big moment for me.


What’s the best thing about travelling the world with the Hockeyroos?

AM: You’re with some of your best friends, travelling around the world doing what you love. Hockey has to compete with so many other sports here in Australia, but hockey is the third most popular sport in the world, so it’s amazing going overseas to these other countries to places like the Netherlands, Argentina, because hockey is their number one sport, and being able to play in front of massive crowds and be part of this broader world of hockey is pretty surreal.

What’s next for you after the Olympics?

AM: Hopefully I’m coming home with a gold medal! We have a bit of a break after the Olympics in August and it’s a while until we have to be back in Perth training, so I will be having a break from hockey. I’ll probably go back and play some soccer with my friends on the Gold Coast. Next year in July we have the Hockey World Cup, and the Commonwealth Games which are two weeks apart. So, once we’re back into things next year it will be go, go, go.

Where can we find you when you’re not on the field?

AM: I’ll be at the beach. This year I was also at Uni, that took up a lot of my time, because I decided to go back and do my master’s in journalism.

 

Kirsten Kinash | Artistic Swimming

Canadian-born Kirsten Kinash always loved the water, but when swimming laps became too monotonous, her focus shifted to what was going on in the pool next door – a hybrid form of swimming, dance and gymnastics.

Fast forward to today, and Kinash is on the cusp of her Olympic debut, representing Australia in Artistic Swimming, where flexibility, strength, and power are the keys to synchronised success.

Having overcome the difficulties of learning how to train with her team virtually through Covid lockdowns, Kinash is as ready as ever to put years of treading water, cold early morning starts, and intensive training to the test.

Kirsten Kinash securing her ticket to Tokyo

How does it feel to be going to the Olympics?

KK: Honestly, it’s such a dream come true. When you’re a kid you dream about it and you see Olympians on TV and you never think that you’re going to be the one going on the worlds stage so it’s incredible. I’m trying to stop and appreciate that between the training.

What is artistic swimming – and what will you be judged on at the Olympics?

KK: It was formerly known as synchronised swimming. It’s basically a sport combining strength with elements of dance and ballet in the water. You’re thrown into the water and you have choreographed routines and you basically want to show as much strength and height and power you can to the judges. And that’s all set to music.

 

“It’s basically ballet on water. But we don’t touch the bottom of the pool.”

 

How long have you been training for this?

KK: I’ve been training on the Gold Coast since I was 10 years old. It’s pretty much giving up all your time after school, from when you’re a small kid, and then you just get addicted to this amazing sport. I was really fortunate that it took me to the Olympics.

How did you first get involved in artistic swimming?

KK: I was a bit uncoordinated on land, but when I finally found the water, I just felt like it was my calling. I loved swimming, but I would get bored of looking at that black line on the bottom of the pool in speed swimming. So, when I was 7, my family signed me up for synchronised swimming. From that moment, I fell in love and didn’t turn back.

What’s it like doing artistic swimming on the Gold Coast?

KK: I was one of the first athletes to join the first synchronised swimming club at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre. The Gold Coast has been the perfect venue for artistic swimming. We train at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre and there’s all the high-level swimmers around, and all these divers and competitions going on. It’s really motivating on the Gold Coast to keep training hard when there’s so many athletes training hard around you as well.

 

Instagram: @kirsten_kinash

Instagram: @kirsten_kinash

Instagram: @kirsten_kinash

 

How frequently do you train?

KK: At the moment in the lead up to Tokyo, we are training every day for 9 hours a day. When I’m at home, I train 6 times a week – often multiple times a day. Artistic swimmers train pretty hard. Our routines are about 3-4 minutes.

 

“At the moment, our afternoon session is 4 hours long and we will only touch the wall of the pool a handful of times, to grab a quick drink and then we keep treading water.

 

How do you stay in synch with your teammates?

KK: The major way we stay in time is by counting the music. There’s underwater speakers, so you count the beat and you know exactly what move you’re going to do on each count. The other element is a lot of practise and repetition. You have to learn each movement very specifically and learn how each of your teammates do it.

How do you train for ‘synchronised swimming’ during Covid when you can’t even be in the same pool together?

KK: Covid was a big challenge, especially being a synchronised swimmer. It was helpful to know everyone was going through it together. We did quite a few zoom calls for gym sessions and drills. We all put in the work individually hoping and knowing that eventually we would get to come back together again.

What don’t people know about the difficulties of artistic swimming?

KK: We’re doing everything by just moving out hands or feet. Our job is to make it look effortless and flawless. It’s a lot of cardio combined with flexibility that’s hard to understand unless you come and try!

 

“If someone is looking at artistic swimming and thinking it looks easy – it means the artistic swimmers have done their job.

 

What was it like growing up on the Gold Coast after moving here from Canada? 

KK: I’m really happy that I got to grow up on the Gold Coast. It’s pretty amazing to be 15 minutes from the beach. I remember as a kid, I would do my training sessions on a Saturday and then I would take the bus with some of my teammates and go straight to the beach and we would spend our whole day outdoors in the water. I love being able to surf and go hiking and live my whole life outdoors. That’s hands down the best part of the Gold Coast.

What’s been your career highlight so far?

KK: The best moment in my career was when we found out we qualified Team Australia for the Olympics in 2019 at the World Championships.

What are you looking forward to most about Tokyo?

KK: I’m really looking forward to showing off a proud swim. There’s been so much anticipation and waiting and training in these last couple of years that I’m excited to get to swim on the world’s stage again and show off what we’ve been working for.

Where has artistic swimming taken you around the world?

KK: It’s taken me everywhere. I got to go to Budapest, Russia, South Korea, Fiji, New Zealand, Canada. We’ve travelled to so many continents!

What’s next for you after the Olympics?

KK: I would love to get back to the grassroots where it all started. I’d love to help up and coming kids to train and reach their potential. I’m excited to keep training in Australia and seeing where it takes me.

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