After a breakthrough 2016 athletics season, I travelled to the Rio Olympics with confidence and high hopes. Breaking the Open Australian Women’s long jump record back in March was something in itself, which I didn’t expect to achieve so early on in my career. It was a distance I looked at achieving later on down the track when I would be at my ‘peak’. With the Rio Olympics within my sights, I knew if I could produce a jump close to my PB I would walk away extremely happy.
With Rio being my first Olympics, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I had heard stories from previous Olympians saying they had the time of their life and to soak up the experience. I hadn’t experienced living in a village before and I didn't have a lot of international competition experience, but I wanted to enjoy every moment of my time in Rio. With numerous negative things being said in the media about the village, the zika virus and the lack of safety within the city of Rio, I was quite anxious about being there, but I tried to avoid the negativity as much as I could. Focusing on my performance was the number one priority.
After spending 6 days in Rio, it was finally competition time. My qualifying round was at 9.05pm on Wednesday the 16th of August, so I woke up with a whole day of waiting around ahead of me. I don’t like to do a great deal on the day of my competition, as I like to try and stay off my legs as much as possible. I do like going for a walk to shake out my legs though, so im not feeling lethargic. When it was time to leave for the track, I felt extremely nervous, but ready to go. I warmed up really well and felt overwhelmed when I walked out into the stadium. The energy and atmosphere in Rio was indescribable. Not only was the stadium buzzing for both the morning and the night sessions, but so was the village. Being surrounded by so many world-class athletes in the village from all diverse sports was a crazy feeling. Having thousands of people within the athletics stadium watching me sent my nerves running high, but I managed to cope ok. When I walked out into the stadium I felt a great amount of pride and emotion. I had dreamt of that moment my whole life and to be there experiencing it felt unreal. I got through the qualifying round reasonably well, however I did it the hard way and left it until my final jump to determine whether I was going to be progressing through to the final the following day, or not. Fortunately I jumped the 9th furthest jump and progressed through to the final with 11 other athletes.
After a massage to flush out the body and a 30 minute trip back on the bus to the village, I returned to my room at approximately 1am. Being on such a massive high after making the final, I found it extremely tough to sleep. I woke up the following morning feeling pretty under the weather. A relaxed day and a nap in the afternoon was all it took to have me firing for the final. I felt pretty sluggish until I got myself moving in my warm up, but once I got out into the stadium I felt fantastic. I was really emotional once again walking out into the stadium, because I knew how long I’d been waiting to experience this moment. My goal of making the final had been achieved and anything from here was going to be a bonus. Having my coach/father, family and boyfriend in the crowd made the whole experience so much more special and something I was so thankful for. The support I received not only from them, but everyone back home was overwhelming. After a competition that was extremely heated, I was so happy to have walked away placing 7th in the Olympic Final. I exceeded my expectations of making the final and I definitely feel like I belong amongst the best long jumpers in the world. The Rio experience has made me appreciate the sport so much more and it has made me realise that long jump is what I was born to do.
I definitely grew as a person and an athlete from my experience in Rio. I don’t think any athlete can come away from an Olympic competition and not have taken anything away from it. There are always things you look back on and wish you could have done differently, but these things are what make you grow. Having the knowledgeable Gary Bourne as the team jumps coach meant myself and my coach had the guidance we needed for our first Olympics. We are both always learning and both willing to grow together as much as we can as a coach/athlete.
There was a huge amount of memorable moments, but the stand out moment for me would be standing on the run way with Usain Bolt at the start line ready to race his 200m semi-final. Usually I would get frustrated if something like this happened and I had to wait on the run way for 5 minutes, but it meant I got to watch Usain bolt run, which was amazing. A cone was placed over the take off board and everyone stood and sat in silence. Being in the stadium at the same time as the fastest man in the world was mind blowing.
After a break post Rio, I am back in training and currently preparing for the Australian domestic season where I hope to compete at all the Track classic meets and the Australian championships. If my domestic season next year can be anything like my 2016 season, I’d be ecstatic. The World Championships in August is what I have my sights set on as well as the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Brooke Stratton (born 12 July 1993) is a long jumper from Australia. She competed at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing narrowly missing the final and later at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics finishing seventh.