Aussie athletes highlight telling truth in Liz Cambage saga

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Liz Cambage withdrew from the Olympics after citing mental health concerns. Pic: Getty
Liz Cambage withdrew from the Olympics after citing mental health concerns. Pic: Getty

When Aussie basketball star Liz Cambage announced her decision with withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics due to mental health reasons last week, the Opals star cited anxiety around being isolated in a bubble with no friends or family to support her.

According to Australia's two flagbearers for Friday night's Opening Ceremony, those fears couldn't be further from the truth in an Olympic Village brimming with the warmth and family-oriented togetherness that Cambage longed for.

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Patty Mills and Cate Campbell - both competing in their fourth Games after being bestowed with the honour of leading the Australian team during the Opening Ceremony - painted a beautiful picture of the camaraderie in the Aussie camp when speaking to reporters on Thursday.

“It’s going to be hard to describe what it feels like to be around the village and see everyone and be around everyone again, that Olympic spirit that everyone obviously talks about,” NBA superstar Mills said.

“For the majority of us (in the Boomers) we all live away from home, away from Australia, so the set-up of the Australian headquarters and the Olympic Village is our home and that is a connection to our home. That’s a really good feeling to have that sense again, to be around Australian things again.

“It was good to sit last night amongst the greater Australian team and other sports, watching the Matildas come up with a good win. It’s what it’s all about, soaking it in, finding that time to appreciate where we are without losing the mindset of the reason of why we’re here and that’s to achieve a gold medal.

“Just coming down this morning and grabbing a coffee and seeing how many Australian athletes started the day with each other, and the mixture of sports outside and having those morning conversations – it was really cool to see the camaraderie the greater team is having. I think that will pay big dividends in the long run in individual and team sports, it really adds to that Aussie spirit that we enjoy.

Pictured here, Patty Mills speaks to reporters at an Olympic Games press conference in Tokyo.
Patty Mills has spoken in glowing terms about life in the Aussie camp at the Olympic Village in Tokyo. Pic: Getty

“It creates this environment where athletes can interact with each other on a deeper level than probably what they normally would … it does create this electricity in the air of support for one another, camaraderie and the pride of what it means to represent your country.”

Two-time Olympic gold medallist and swimming superstar Campbell echoed Mills' sentiments and admitted that although Covid-19 has made it the most challenging Games ever for athletes, that shared experience that they are all part of, is something quite amazing.

“What I’ve really noticed around HQ, there’s an element of real gratitude,” Campbell said. 

“It is always a privilege to represent your country at an Olympic Games but there is this extra special sentiment in the air at the moment because everyone realises what an absolute privilege it is to be competing at an Olympic Games in an environment like this.

“Part of our value set is we value people first and performance second, and giving people the freedom to be themselves, to go out there and do their absolute best without judgment from the team, knowing they have a safe space to come back to, has really allowed people to flourish and perform at their best.”

Cambage absence a big blow for Opals

The unfortunate reality is that Cambage didn't believe the Tokyo Games would be conducive to her mental wellbeing, despite the glowing endorsements from Mills and Campbell.

Liz Camage announced on Friday that she was withdrawing from Australia's Tokyo Olympics campaign. Pic: Getty
Liz Camage announced on Friday that she was withdrawing from Australia's Tokyo Olympics campaign. Pic: Getty

Cambage stressed that her decision to pull out of the Olympics was not taken lightly and had been a long time coming after as anxiety around the bubble situation in Tokyo grew stronger.

"I’ve been having breakdowns in the carpark at Whole Foods. Non-stop panic attacks. Hyperventilating. At the thought of going into one of the most high-pressure situations, that is already in a bubble. With no fans, no friends. I’ve never played without fans, Cambage said in a heartfelt video on Instagram.

Former Wallabies star and veteran writer Peter FitzSimons also highlighted Cambage's claims about having "no friends" at the Olympics, and said he found it surprising that in such a tight-knit, team-based sport that she would feel that way.

The 29-year-old WNBA star is regarded as one of the best female basketball players in the world and her absence represents a huge blow for the Opals and their quest for a so far elusive gold medal.

Cambage's withdrawal comes amid a Basketball Australia code of conduct and integrity investigation into an incident involving the Opals star during last week's pre-Games scrimmage against Nigeria.

The WNBA star - who admitted to having a "physical altercation" with members of the Nigeria team - was replaced in the Opals squad by Sara Blicavs - whose father and mother both represented Australia in basketball.

Blicavs is set to make her Olympics debut in Tokyo.

with agencies

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