Sally Hunter

You're too nice to win

Sally Hunter
You're too nice to win

Photos courtesy of Sally Hunter, Delly Carr and Swimming Australia LTD

The 1936 Olympics

I was given my Great Auntie’s journal to read when I was 14. At that point, I was trying to figure out whether to swim for fun or to give competitive swimming a shot.  

It was May 1936 and Evelyn de Lacy, who was 18 years old at the time, was about to embark on her journey to swim in the Berlin 1936 Olympics. She didn’t make the initial cut for the Australian Olympic team, which created quite the uproar in Western Australia. For the past 3 years she had dominated women’s freestyle swimming and was ranked at the time of the Olympic selection higher than some of the men that were selected to go. She was told that if she wanted to go she would have to raise the funds herself, so the Western Australian community rallied together doing all they could to try and raise the funds. The ‘Daily News’ a Western Australian newspaper made a single donation of £200 to send Evelyn to the Berlin Olympics just days before the money was due. So off she went! 

The Australian Swimming Team, Berlin, 1936. Evelyn de Lacy 4th from the right.

The Australian Swimming Team, Berlin, 1936. Evelyn de Lacy 4th from the right.

This was obviously quite a different travel experience compared to the 24 hour flight that I had just experienced to the London 2012 Olympics. We’re talking about a 6 week expedition to get there; a 4 week boat followed by buses, trams, the lot. Her training regime at possibly the most crucial time in her career was in a 5m X 5m pool on the boat, which was filled with sea water. The athletes could only use the facility for an hour a day. They would take turns and hold their fellow teammates ankles in the pool during their training session. Just imagine!

I remember my 14 year old self reading about their 1936 team mascot; a Kangaroo. There I was thinking it was a stuffed toy, but no... this was a real and very much alive kangaroo that the Olympic team took with them on the boat, all the way to Berlin. It seemed quite happy pottering around on the grass in the Olympic village.

Percy Oliver and Evelyn de Lacy with the Australian Mascot, ‘Aussie’

Percy Oliver and Evelyn de Lacy with the Australian Mascot, ‘Aussie’

I remember my 14 year old self thinking ‘if someone I know has made it to the Olympics then why can’t I?’ It made it more relatable. Fast forward seventy-six years and I was embarking on my own adventure at the London Olympics and would follow in my Great Auntie’s footsteps and write my own journal. This time recorded on a laptop; a slight improvement on the typewriter.

The 2012 Olympics

The Olympics is like an addiction.

I had been to Beijing which was absolutely amazing, but I wanted more. The gold medallists always have a certain way of ‘being’. I tried the whole not talking to my opponents, sitting at the back of the marshalling room with my headphones, but it’s just not who I am. I was willing to try everything though to find my winning state of mind and crack that magic formula.

By the time London came, I had grown as a person and was no longer a scared kid. I didn’t feel as though I needed to act a certain way to perform well. For me, when I was enjoying the experience and allowed to be myself I would perform at my best. In London, I was still the chatty and bubbly me in the marshalling room just before the finals race, juxtaposed to the 100m Men’s final, which was the race before ours. You could cut the tension with a butter knife in that room. My Olympic finals performance was the best I could do on the day; the best I had ever done.

If someone says something is impossible, it’s generally because they can’t do it; not you. I made my first Australian Team at 21 which is old for a first team representation. At 27 after my finals swim at the London Olympics I was told I was ‘too nice to win’ and that I should ‘give someone else a go’ and retire at 27. In my heart I knew I had more to give and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the sport I love. It wasn’t until after London that I finally became myself and I was at my peak. 8 months after being told to retire, I move states, changed coaches and began a new program. I became the Australian Champion in both the women’s 100m and 200m Breaststroke and shortly after won a Silver Medal for Australia in the 4X100m Medley Relay in the World Swimming Championships in Barcelona. Followed by another Silver medal in the women’s 200m Breaststroke at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow... a lifetime best performance at the ‘old’ age of 29!

I’ve learnt to enjoy the moment and to back myself. For so long I was so afraid of not getting it right. I’d let the situation I was in overpower me. I was worried about the outcome and I was not enjoying the journey. You have to believe in who you are and believe that you are enough. I am not aggressive or a bully, I don’t stare people down or try to get in their head. I am kind, happy and nice to others. I have never changed who I am as a person for a competitive advantage. I don’t believe in compromising who I am for a medal, but I was born to swim and do like to win.

Sally Hunter (born 13 April 1985), née Sally Foster, is an Australian breaststroke Swimmer. Her career debut was at the age of 21 at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth games. Sally’s career highlights include competing in the final of the London 2012 Olympic Games, winning a silver medal as a part of the Women’s 4X100m Medley Relay with her fellow team mates at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona and swimming a lifetime best in the women’s 200m Breaststroke to take home Silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. You can purchase Sally’s book – Born to Swim through www.wakefieldpress.com.au

Follow Sally Hunter on Instagram @s_foster13