La Trobe Elite Athlete Program members shine on world stage

Four members of the La Trobe Elite Athlete Program (LEAP) have fulfilled lifelong dreams by representing Australia at the Olympic Games.

After two weeks of competing against the world’s best athletes in Tokyo, Brendon Smith (Swimming, Bachelor of Business – Accounting and Finance), Amy Lawton (Hockey, Bachelor of Prosthetics and Orthotics - Honours), Caitlin Parker (Boxing, Diploma of Sports Coaching & Development – Carlton College of Sport) and Mack Horton (Swimming, Bachelor of Applied Business – Didasko) will return to Australia as the pride of the nation having been part of the nation’s most successful Olympic Games campaign in its history.

The La Trobe quartet were also joined in Tokyo by LEAP alumnus Matthew Clarke (Athletics, Bachelor of Applied Sciences and Masters of Podiatric Practice), who competed in the 3000m steeplechase event.

For Brendon Smith and Amy Lawton, the Tokyo Games was their first Olympic experience, but the two TechnologyOne High Performance Sport Scholarship holders showed no signs of nerves affecting their performance. Smith became Australia’s first medal winner for the Tokyo Games with a terrific swim in the Men’s 400m Individual Medley final which secured him bronze, while Lawton was a key player for the Hockeyroos who finished in sixth place.

Smith qualified fastest for the final by breaking the Australian record for the 400m IM in the semi final, but looked to be out of medal contention with 50 metres to go until a barnstorming final freestyle leg catapulted him into third behind United States duo Chase Kalisz (first) and Jay Litherland (second).

The 21-year-old’s bronze medal was Australia's first medal in the Men's 400m IM in 37 years and just the second in Australian Olympic history.

Lawton on the other hand showed she has all the attributes to be a long-term member of the Hockeyroos team with some fantastic performances on Olympic debut. The highly fancied Hockeyroos had opened the Tokyo Games with five successive wins before going down to India in an upset 1-0 quarter final loss.

While disappointed not to make it to the medal playoffs, the Hockeyroos can take heart from the performances of 19-year-old Lawton, who played in all six matches and was named player of the match against New Zealand.

Along with Smith and Lawton, Caitlin Parker was also making her first appearance at the Olympic Games. Unfortunately for the 25-year-old, her Olympics campaign finished earlier than she had hoped after running into a formidable opponent in Atheyna Bylon (Panama) in the Women’s middleweight boxing round of 16. But the 2018 Commonwealth Games silver medallist has time on her side and will no doubt be setting herself for a strong tilt at a medal in Paris in three years' time.

For Mack Horton, the Tokyo Games marked his second appearance at the Olympics after both competed in Rio in 2016. While Horton was unable to repeat the heroics that saw him win the Men’s 400m Freestyle gold medal in Rio, he still left Tokyo with a bronze medal as a result of being member of the heat swim that qualified Australia for the 4x200m freestyle relay final, in which they eventually finished third.

Attention now turns to the Paralympic Games, which will also take place in Tokyo from 24 August - 5 September. La Trobe has four LEAP members competing in the Games, including Emily Beecroft (Swimming, Bachelor of Arts), Ahmed Kelly (Swimming, Bachelor of Arts), Jeremy Tyndall (Wheelchair Basketball, Bachelor of Education - Primary) and Bree Mellberg (Wheelchair Basketball, PhD).

Stay tuned to La Trobe Sport’s Facebook and Instagram pages in the coming weeks for updates on each of our Tokyo-bound athletes.

For more information on the La Trobe Elite Athlete Program, head to the La Trobe Sport website.