Siren Collaborator Mary Konstantopoulos speaks to Aussie Stingers captain Rowie Webster about fighting for gold in a very different Olympic Games.
Rowie Webster landed in Tokyo last week, alongside her Australian Stingers teammates, preparing to represent Australia in her third Olympic Games.
Plenty has changed for Webster since she made her Olympic water polo debut in London in 2012.
“I started as a fairly good water polo player, that didn’t have any understanding of the details that our leadership group had to pay attention to,” said Webster.
“I had the luxury of just going out, playing and focusing on my own performance.
“That was fun, but truth be told, I was a bit naïve at that point.”
Since then, Webster has continued to develop her own game, growing from a strong attacker into a player that can be relied upon in pressure situations. She has also learnt about the effort it takes from so many people to get a team to the Olympic Games.
Her development as a player and as a leader was rewarded in 2016 where she was vice-captain of the Aussie Stingers for the Rio campaign. Now heading to Tokyo, she has been named team captain.
“I have worked really hard on my leadership skills,” said Webster.
“My attitude is ‘never settle’, and I always focus on being better and doing more for the team; I have found that this attitude has worked for me.
“It was a much simpler life without leadership responsibilities, but I wouldn’t give up the captaincy for the world. I think I am in such a privileged position.”
Buoyed by the rise in women’s sport and the many female athletes who have found their voice, Webster has found hers too. Webster is currently part of the AIS Athletes Commission and more recently, as a proud member of the LGBTIQ+ community in Australia, she has become an ambassador for Pride in Sport.
For Webster, what she does in the pool is important, but for her being an athlete means more than just achieving success in your chosen sport.
“Sometimes we are just labelled as ‘athletes’ but I strongly believe we can use our platforms to share our stories and help leave our sports in a better place than when we arrived,” said Webster.
“For me, a big part of that is accepting everyone, understanding that everyone has their own story and encouraging other people to be proud of who they are.
“If we inspire one person, then through that ripple effect, we can impact more.
“I truly believe that if you are comfortable in who you are, and you can show that to other people, then others will follow too.”
For Webster and the Aussie Stingers, they have high hopes of medalling at these Games. But first and foremost, the team goal is to make sure that every player remains fit, healthy and available for all six games.
“We have really focused on this in the water polo space, we want to get everyone to all six games COVID free,” said Webster.
“That is our goal first and foremost.”
These Olympic Games are going to look different to any other Games in history. Lack of social interaction, lack of celebration and plenty of masks; Webster has suggested it may look like the ‘anti-social’ games. But for Webster, that makes the story of each and every athlete who has qualified even more incredible.
“If you are part of the story of this incredible event that brings countries together to fight for something that is really special, then that is enough of a story to be happy with,” said Webster.
“If you can work your way into a medal position for you, your family, your team and your country then that’s just the cherry on top.
“It has been a big five year cycle, so seeing the athletes get to where they have and their adaptability and resilience is just incredible.”
This Aussie Stingers side is certainly a diverse one, with the oldest member being 35 and the youngest just 19.
There are several players to keep an eye on including Bronwen Knox who is making Olympic history, becoming the first Australian woman to make four Olympics in water polo. There are several debutants too like Elle Armit, Abby Andrews and Matilda Kearns. Bronte Halligan who will also make her debut in Tokyo just missed out on Rio and has shown resilience to fight her way into the squad.
But what continues to shine through for this squad is how much they enjoy being part of each other’s company.
“It’s not often you can spend 24/7 with the same group of people and at the end of the day still smile about it, be grateful for it and continue to live the lives we dreamt of as kids,” said Webster.
“Perhaps we are underpaid and overworked, but it is a phenomenal life we get to lead.
“We know how much support we have back home heading into these Olympic Games. We love that support and we are going to make you proud.
“We have a job to do, now all that’s left is for us to go out there and do it.”