Camplin asks women to challenge themselves

Alisa Camplin will be assistant chef de mission of the Australian team at the Beijing 2022 Games.
Alisa Camplin will be assistant chef de mission of the Australian team at the Beijing 2022 Games.

Olympic gold medallist Alisa Camplin has urged Australia's female athletes to compete against themselves rather than a particular sex as they celebrate International Women's Day.

From Fanny Durack, who in 1912 became Australia's first female Olympic champion, to Shirley Strickland, Betty Cuthbert, Dawn Fraser, Catherine Freeman, Hockeyroo Rechelle Hawkes and Sally Pearson among many others - Australia's women have long done the heavy lifting at the Games.

At the 2016 Rio Games, for the first time in Olympic history, Australia sent more women than men - with 214 compared to 208. This was up from 186 women to 224 men in London 2012.

There are currently more women than men on the Tokyo team, and with the Olympics pursuing gender parity within events it's set to continue to rise.

Despite the disparity in representation over the years, Australia's women have won 52 per cent of the medals and are on track for more in Tokyo from the likes of javelin world champion Kelsey-Lee Barber, canoe world champ Jess Fox, tennis No.1 Ash Barty, surfer Stephanie Gilmore, as well as the Matildas, the Oplas and the Sevens rugby team.

Aerial skier Camplin took gold in 2002 at Salt Lake City and then bronze four years later in Turin and was on Sunday announced as assistant chef de mission for Australia's winter Olympic team in Beijing 2022.

After holding down a high-performance position with the PyeongChang team, Camplin feels "privileged" to be in a position to again give back to athletes and support them on the world stage.

Closer to home, Camplin doesn't want women to just compete against women or men, but against themselves.

"I feel like my whole life I've been competing to be my best, not competing against a particular sex," the 46-year-old told AAP.

"I went to a girls school, did an IT degree, worked 18 years at IBM and IT is pretty male.

"I sat in boardrooms for 15 years, which were predominantly male, but I never really tried to pigeon-hole myself in a gender space.

"For me it was all about, 'What do you bring to the table, what's the collective goal, how excellent can you be, how much value can you add?'

"That's always been my driving force as a person and particularly as an athlete and business executive and then company director.

"That mindset has helped me stay focused on what I can control."

The tagline for IWD 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge, which resonated with Camplin, who described it as "confronting for women".

She said there were still many gaps to close but there was now more awareness forcing change.

"To challenge is hard and so I think people need to find what is their best way to challenge and to keep raising standards and awareness," she said.

"My way to challenge is to show that women are just as strong, savvy, skilled, determined and capable and big-visioned as your male counterpart, no matter what industry you're in.

"To keep striving to be excellent, to show how good we can be while finding the right times and places to fight the greater cause for women."

Another Australian Olympic champion Susie O'Neill, who won gold in Atlanta and Sydney among her haul of eight medals, felt lucky that swimming offered gender equality as a sport and that she was never at a disadvantage.

But O'Neill, the assistant chef de mission for Tokyo along with retired rowing great Kim Brennan, acknowledged that wasn't the case across the board.

"I never experienced any sort of discrimination for being a female in swimming but since I've quit I've gone to a lot of women in sport functions and heard the other athletes speak and thought, 'I don't relate to that at all'," O'Neill said.

"I was really lucky in swimming but I've seen it in other sports - how hard it was to get equal prize-money or just to get respect."

O'Neill said the Olympics had benefited from being an elite focus for sportswomen, while talented men could be swayed by football codes or big money in basketball.

Despite the upside of more lucrative career paths for women, she feared the Olympics could be a casualty.

"The Olympics have had a bit of a captive market for females but the ones I knew when I was competing were the fittest, toughest girls I've ever met," she said.

"There's a lot more opportunities for women in sports like AFL and cricket so it might be harder for Olympics to retain their female athletes."

March 8 is International Women's Day.

Australian Associated Press