10 February 2023

The Canberra athletes most likely to inspire in 2021

| Tim Gavel
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Kelsey-Lee Barber

2021 could be Kelsey-Lee Barber’s year. Photo: thatjavelingirl.

Sport does more than entertain – the great athletes inspire, through their achievements and character. Canberra has produced and nurtured many inspiring sportspeople in a diverse range of sports – here are some of our best and brightest.

Kelsey-Lee Barber was in the form of her life leading into the 2020 Olympics before they were postponed to 2021.

Kelsey-Lee won the women’s javelin at the 2019 World Track and Field Titles and was the raging hot favourite heading into the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

She now has to refocus on the postponed Olympics in July-August this year.

There have been plenty of hurdles that she had to overcome, including the lack of overseas competition.

Another consideration is the window of opportunity. But at 29 years of age, she is at the top of her game. High hopes for Tokyo are more than justified.

Another Canberra athlete keen to make the most of the extra preparation time before the Olympics is eight-times World BMX and Mountain Bike Champion Caroline Buchanan. She has courageously fought her way back into contention after an off-road accident which kept her away from BMX for nearly two years.

Caroline Buchanan

The postponed Olympics gives Caroline Buchanan more time to prepare and qualify. Photo: Supplied.

Time away from the bike has resulted in a contest to get back into the top two in the national rankings so she could make the Australian team.

Caroline is a dual Olympian and will be desperate to make the podium in Tokyo after disappointments in London and Rio. If she makes it back to the top, it will be a remarkable story.

READ MORE Caroline Buchanan gets back on the bike for one last shot at Olympic glory

Much like Caroline, Jack Wighton needs little introduction. In 2020 he won the Dally M for the NRL’s top player, effectively taking his game to a new level.

Canberra Raiders

Let’s hope it’s another big year for Canberra Raiders Jack Wighton. Photo: Canberra Raiders.

Wighton led by example time and time again in 2020 with an ability to score tries through sheer determination. He will again be the player looked upon to inspire the Raiders in 2021.

Brumbies fly-half Noah Lolesio was thrown in the deep end last season when, at age 20, he was selected to start against the All Blacks in the third Bledisloe Cup Test in October.

Noah Lolesio

Brumbies fly-half Noah Lolesio takes a shot at goal at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Brumbies.

Lolesio was pivotal in guiding the Brumbies to victory in the Australian Super Rugby competition in 2020 and will again be the key player this season.

When he runs, the Brumbies are hard to beat.

Michelle Heyman’s successful return to the W League with Canberra United could be the Canberra sports story of the year.

Michelle stepped away from football after the 2019 season as she struggled to recover from injury, coupled with the pressure to score goals as a striker, a position where the expectation is always high.

Her return has been nothing short of sensational. She’s netted four goals in three rounds. What’s more remarkable is she scored three in the opening game.

UC Capitals star Marianna Tolo narrowly missed out on making the 2012 London Olympics before her debut in 2016 in Rio. Since Rio, she battled to recover from injury but has fought her way back to be part of the Capitals premiership run.

Marianna Tolo

Marianna Tolo is back in the squad for Tokyo. Photo: UC Capitals.

Marianna is back in the Australian squad preparing for the postponed Olympics. But again, the uncertainty over whether the Games go ahead this year threatens this window of opportunity.

And the list wouldn’t be complete without Canberra’s own Michael Roeger.

READ MORE Why Canberra’s running man, Paralympian Michael Roeger, is still pounding the pavement

The Paralympian currently holds the world marathon record in the T46 category. He’s been to three Paralympics winning bronze in Rio, but the upcoming Games in Tokyo represents his best chance yet of winning gold.

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