Westfield Matildas striker Kyah Simon says competing at the Rio Games will be the pinnacle of her career and it gives her the chance to follow in the footsteps of her childhood idol.
On Friday, across Australia, the Matildas arrived home from their triumphant qualifying campaign in Japan.
It’s been 12 years since Australia’s women’s football team competed at an Olympics – with co-captain Lisa De Vanna the only player in the current squad to have experienced the biggest event in world sport.
“I’ve been to two World Cups and obviously been in a lot of major tournaments as well but this is my childhood dream,” Simon told reporters at Sydney airport.
“Playing for Australia was one, going to World Cups another but then being at the pinnacle of sport is just another next step.
“It resonates so much with me [the Olympics] because that’s how my dream began watching that 2000 Olympics and that’s really what inspired me.
“I’m just super proud as a team to be able to say we’re going to be Olympians and we’re going there with the rest of Australia’s elite athletes and mingling with the rest of the world’s best athletes.”
Simon pinpointed the moment she wanted to be an Olympian. It was seeing Cathy Freeman win gold in the 400 metres at the Sydney Games.
In fact, many Matildas have spoken of Freeman’s famous performance and the influence it has had on their careers.
And the squad was thrilled when they received a congratulatory message from the Aussie legend after their qualification.
For Simon, being of Indigenous heritage, Freeman’s example has been a constant source of inspiration and the striker plans to continue her legacy in Rio.
“I think that just really resonated with me. I remember the race like it was yesterday,” said Simon.
“We watched over it [in Osaka] and for her to then acknowledge what we’d achieved 16 years down the track is massive and definitely brought a tear to my eye.
“It took me back to when I was an eight-year-old girl watching her run that race Now I’ve got that chance to do that for young girls around the world and young Australian and Indigenous girls.”
There’ll be little time to rest for Simon following the Matildas’ successful campaign, where the 24-year-old was the leading scorer at the tournament.
The US National Women’s Soccer League season awaits, with Simon flying out again in ten days to link up with her Boston Breakers side.
“It’s full steam ahead. I’m off to America on the 21st so it’s a short turn-around from this tournament but I’m just super-pumped,” said Simon.
“I’m just so football minded at the moment I just want to keep going, I just want to keep growing.
“As a footballer obviously it’s a major opportunity to play at the Olympics and if there’s one thing that I want it’s to be able to hold a gold medal around our necks with the other girls.”