Australian celebrities reveal the heartbreaking truth about Liz Cambage's Olympic exit.
Two of Australia's most prominent Olympians have shed light on why the absence of Liz Cambage and other Aussie stars is even more depressing than previously thought.
Likewise, Ben Simmons is. And, for that matter, Nick Kyrgios.
Simmons opted out of the Olympics to focus on skill development during the NBA off-season, while Kyrgios opted out due to the prospect of playing in front of empty stands.
Cambage was never going to be able to live in a bubble, citing mental health issues. She stated that the lack of "friends" in her immediate vicinity, combined with her rising anxiety levels, left her with no choice but to say goodbye to her Opals teammates.
Patty Mills and Cate Campbell, Australia's opening ceremony flag bearers, highlighted the full extent of Cambage's admission – of having "no friends" in Tokyo.
The pair wowed reporters in Tokyo on Thursday, speaking with humility and gratitude about the opportunity to unite with fellow athletes in a Covid-19 world where nothing is guaranteed.
Both are now four-time Olympians, but even in the early days of this year's Games, they sensed something special about Tokyo, owing to a combination of circumstance – athletes' movements being restricted due to the coronavirus – and a heightened sense of community among the residents of Australian headquarters.
“It's going to be difficult to put into words what it's like to be around the village and see everyone and be around everyone again, to experience that Olympic spirit that everyone obviously talks about,” basketball star Mills said.
“Because the majority of us (Boomers) live away from home, away from Australia, the arrangement of the Australian headquarters and the Olympic Village serves as our home, providing a connection to our homeland. It's a wonderful feeling to regain that sense, to be surrounded by Australian objects. It was nice to sit among the greater Australian team and other sports last night and watch the Matildas pull off a good win. That is what it is all about: soaking it all in and taking the time to appreciate where we are without losing sight of the reason we are here, which is to win a gold medal. Simply coming down this morning and grabbing a coffee and observing how many Australian athletes began their days with one another, as well as the variety of sports outside and those morning conversations – it was really cool to see the team's camaraderie. That, I believe, will pay significant dividends in the long run in both individual and team sports, as it contributes significantly to the Aussie spirit we enjoy.
“It creates an environment in which athletes can interact on a deeper level than they would normally... It does generate an electric atmosphere of mutual support, camaraderie, and pride in what it means to represent your country.”
Campbell, the swimming legend, sang a similar song.
“What I've noticed most around HQ is an element of genuine gratitude,” she explained. “It is always an honor to represent your country at an Olympic Games, but there is an extra special sentiment in the air right now because everyone understands how incredible it is to be competing in an Olympic Games in this environment. Part of our value set is that we value people first and performance second, and allowing people to be themselves, to go out and do their absolute best without fear of judgment from the team, and knowing they have a safe space to return to, has allowed people to flourish and perform at their best.”
Throughout the pair's press conference, it was clear that the unusual circumstances created by coronavirus will actually help members of the Australian team develop stronger relationships than they would have developed otherwise had they been allowed to roam freely. Due to the pandemic, our athletes are confined to the Village when they are not training or competing. As a result, they are bonding over a shared experience they may never see again.
After 40 minutes of Mills and Campbell emphasizing how close the entire Australian team has become, one couldn't help but wonder what those athletes who withdrew were missing.
That Cambage's withdrawal was partly motivated by a lack of support from friends seems even more tragic in light of Mills' and Campbell's comments. According to their account, the Australian team was more like family than friends. If you are unable to obtain assistance in that environment, where can you obtain it?
Both Simmons and Kyrgios have never competed in an Olympics. Would the void created by empty stands in Kyrgios' life have been filled by interactions with other Australian athletes in the Village? Tennis star Rafael Nadal has previously excelled in team environments – think Davis Cup, ATP Cup, and Laver Cup – and the circumstances in Tokyo may have brought out his best.
Simmons' relationship with the Boomers is complicated, and some are doubtful that the former No. 1 NBA Draft pick will ever wear green and gold at an Olympics. Following his official withdrawal from Tokyo, numerous pundits chastised the 25-year-old, claiming he would have benefited from spending time with the national team rather than traveling alone to the United States to work on his shooting.
While it's understandable why Cambage and Co. sat out, that does not mean you can't feel sorry for them as well. We'll know exactly what they're about to miss out on in a couple of weeks.