Etheridge never lost hope in Olympic dream

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Gemma Etheridge hasn’t played in a Sevens tournament since Sao Paulo in February this year but she never lost hope in her Olympic dream.

Etheridge, who moved away from her family to join the program in Narrabeen, was motivated by a Rio prospect every of her rehab from a third ACL rupture.

“There wasn't really a time where I thought it was out of my reach but I just knew I had to do everything I could and then it's in the hands of the selectors,” she said.

A decision to undergo LARS surgery paid off for Etheridge, who was meticulous in her rehab as she worked towards a return.

When the news finally came, the overwhelming feeling for the Sevens veteran was relief.

“I'm an emotional person at the best and I think I just burst out crying straight away,” she said.

“It was a relief to be honest.

“It was a lot of hard work so to finally hear that I was in the team it meant that all the hard work was worth it.”

The Brumbies remain on top of the Australian conference. Photo: Getty ImagesEtheridge was quick to dismiss the sacrifices she has made to be in the Olympic, choices that coach Tim Walsh has praised her for throughout her comeback, but said Rio selection was the best reward.

“Everyone gives up a lot of things to try (to make it),” she said.

“I don't feel like I'm different in that respect but it has been hard and it is a nice reward at the end of it to come away with a selection and hopefully we can come home with a gold medal.”

Despite her long layoff Etheridge is confident she can step straight back into the side in Rio, with complete confidence in her body.

“I feel like I'm 100 per cent back to normal,” she said.

“I probably think I'm better than ever...I'm very confident and been back in full training now for two weeks and I've got no hesitation at all.

Walsh had the lucky job of delivering the news to his players and said that giving Etheridge the news was one of those that he was most anticipating.

“It's hard to rank them but yeah it was pretty special,” he said.

“Gemma has  an incredible workrate and she's very mature and the way that she...handles herself in rehab, she almost comes back fitter and stronger than she was before she left.

“She studies the game religiously so she knows every new play, the way we're playing, different strategies and she seamlessly goes back in.

“I don't think there's many players that can actually do that.”

The 12 women who were selected for Rio. Photo: Getty ImagesWhile there is plenty of sentiment in having Etheridge on the side, Walsh said that had not come into his decision, with only performance in mind when it came to selection.

“We use the term making choices - Gemma's probably made the biggest choices, moving away from her fiance, putting other things around her life  on hold, taking massive salary cuts from her job, so it's a nice thing but had no effect on where it was,” he said.

“We want to choose the best 12 players and Gemma is one of those.

“She's so versatile in and around the field.

“She just sort of fixes, can play every position just about and what she brings as a leader as well.”.

Dom Du Toit is one of Australia's injury replacement players. Photo: Getty imagesAfter announcing his 12-player Olympic squad, Walsh announced his two reserves on Saturday, with rookie Dom Du Toit and Brooke Walker the two injury replacements.

The pair will travel to Rio but stay outside of the athlete’s village and be able to come into the squad in case of injury.