Opportunity is golden as Kookaburra Aran Zalewski looks to break South West medal drought

Headshot of Jackson Barrett
Jackson BarrettSouth Western Times
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 03: Aran Zalewski of Team Australia passes the ball during the Men's Semifinal match between Australia and Germany on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Oi Hockey Stadium on August 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Camera IconTOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 03: Aran Zalewski of Team Australia passes the ball during the Men's Semifinal match between Australia and Germany on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Oi Hockey Stadium on August 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Images

Margaret River’s Aran Zalewski is looking to become the South West’s first gold medallist since fellow hockey player Troy Elder in 2004 when his Kookaburras face Belgium in an Olympic decider tonight.

The national team co-captain was at his authoritative best at centre-half in a stunning 3-1 semi-final win over Germany on Tuesday night.

In his 200th game, Zalewski produced a classy midfield performance as Tim Brand, Blake Govers and Lachie Sharpe netted to send Australia into their first Olympic final for 17 years.

It means a heavyweight clash between the world’s two best teams awaits tonight when they face Belgium.

Like the Koookaburras, the Belgians have flown through the pool matches and the first two-knockout games with a near-perfect record, with both sides lowering their colours only for a draw in the final games of their respective pools.

The Red Lions were comfortable winners in their semi-final against India on Tuesday, knocking off the world’s number three side 5-2.

Elder, the South West’s most recent Olympic gold medallist, was born in Bunbury, before growing up in Queensland, but returned to the region to play for the now defunct South West Strikers during his time in the national program.

Australia's Troy Elder up against Tuen de Nooijer, of The Netherlands.
Camera IconAustralia's Troy Elder up against Tuen de Nooijer, of The Netherlands. Credit: Iain Gillespie ING/WA News, Iain Gillespie ING

He played alongside soon-to-be Australian hockey giants Mark Knowles and Jamie Dwyer in the side that broke through for the country’s first men’s hockey gold at Athens.

After a tumultuous week, which included a stint in self-isolation and the revelation she was battling a quad injury, Busselton-raised Nina Kennedy has bowed out of the women’s pole vault in controversial circumstances.

Kennedy and fellow West Aussie Elizaveta Parnova were forced to jump in the rain, as officials failed to stop proceedings, and both failed to take to the air.

Nina Kennedy competes in the Women's Pole Vault
Camera IconNina Kennedy competes in the Women's Pole Vault Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images, Cameron Spencer

A rain delay was eventually called in time for Kennedy to have two more attempts with the bar at 4.55m, but she again failed to take off in her final two attempts and was eliminated.

Kennedy, who was considered a genuine medal chance before her debut Olympics, revealed last week in an Instagram post that she had “barely jumped” in the lead-up as she dealt with a soft tissue injury.

She was also forced into isolation alongside fellow West Aussie pole-vaulter Kurtis Marschall and the pair’s coach Paul Burgess as the Australian athletics team was caught up in a COVID-19 scare just days out from their events.

When Zalewski leads the Kookaburras out tonight, it will be the final event at these Games featuring a South West athlete, with Busselton’s Taylor Worth bowing out of the archery at the 1/8 elimination stage and Bunbury BMX rider Lauren Reynolds finishing an impressive fifth in her final last week.

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