(Australian Associated Press)
It’s going to take something very special to top June 23 as the overall high-water mark of the Australian sporting year.
On that one remarkable day, Ashleigh Barty and Sally Fitzgibbons soared to the top of the world rankings in tennis and surfing, while Hannah Green won her first golfing major at the Women’s PGA.
Now imagine if the trio could back it up with similar performances in Tokyo next year; this time with a five-ringed, golden hue.
That would be something else altogether.
Australia’s modern-day Olympic history suggests it might just happen.
Throughout the post-World War II era it has been female greats doing much of the heavy lifting for Australia when it comes to ultimate Olympic success
Think Betty Cuthbert, Cathy Freeman and Sally Pearson. Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould and Susie O’Neill. Cyclist Anna Meares and equestrian champion Gillian Rolton.
And, as recently as three years ago in Rio, the likes of modern pentathlete Chloe Esposito, rower Kim Brennan and the rugby sevens team.
The green and gold has clearly been way ahead of the Olympic curve when it comes to gender parity.
Expect more of the same at the July 24-August 9 Tokyo Games, when the introduction of new-age sports such as surfing and skateboarding will also play in Australia’s favour.
Hopes are high that the squad can reverse a recent decline that saw Australia pocket just 29 medals three years ago in Rio – the lowest return since 1992.
Public medal projections have gone out of vogue in the years since the Rio Games; the official rationale being that they only put an unwelcome extra layer of pressure on sportspeople who already tend to be their own hardest markers.
“Our approach is that we are highly committed to providing an environment where each and every athlete can have their best day on their biggest day,” Australian team chef de mission Ian Chesterman told AAP.
“If we do that then we will be successful as a team and we will see medals being won by our athletes.
“But we’re also saying we want our athletes to have the best chance of doing their PB or making a final and that might be their success.”
Left unsaid is that the Australian Olympic Committee don’t much like being reminded if and when they don’t meet their own benchmarks.
Swimming has long been Australia’s most reliable source of Olympic bounty.
Expectations are high next year for the cycling team.
You can never discount champion hurdler Pearson either, if only she can enjoy a change of luck on the injury front.
Basketball, hockey and rugby sevens look the pick of the team sports when it comes to prospective podium finishes.
And then there’s the supremely talented trio (and their teammates) who scaled the heights almost simultaneously back on June 23.
Barty is a genuine gold-medal shot in an Olympic women’s tennis tournament where the spotlight will shine white hot on great local hope Naomi Osaka.
Both Fitzgibbons and seven-time world champ Stephanie Gilmore will fancy their chances of being crowned the first Olympic women’s surfing champ.
And Green and current world No.4 Minjee Lee are in the box seat to fly the Australian flag in the women’s golf tournament.
“Australia has a proud Olympic history and the chance to be part of a team of talented and inspirational athletes from different sports is incredible,” Barty said last month after going top of the world rankings.
“The prospect of representing my country alongside a friend like Stephanie Gilmore is also pretty exciting.”
It certainly is.
“For generations the Olympic Games have created opportunities for Australians across a diverse range of sports,” said Chesterman.
“One of the many things I really love about the broader Olympic movement is that it does represent 206 countries and there are sports for all of them.”
Baseball and softball return to the program in 2020 after a 12-year absence.
If Australia qualify in both, the final squad could number as many as 480 athletes, rivalling the 482-strong Athens squad for the biggest sent to an overseas Games.
And there’s every chance the females will make up the majority of the squad, as happened for the fist time back in Rio.