Picture this. You are just ten years old, walking in to the Sydney’s Stadium Australia, with over 100,000 other people. You are surrounded by people from all walks of the globe, all united as one to watch the best athletes in the world.
Fast forward twelve years, and this time you are walking in to London’s Olympic Stadium. Again, thousands of people have converged on the arena to watch the world’s best athletes.
But this time, you are not with them. No, this time, you are the one they are watching.
At the very moment she entered Stadium Australia for the 2000 Olympic Games, Melissa Breen was hooked for life.
“I remember walking in to the stadium and thinking ‘Over 100,000 people have come to this place, just to watch people run’. That was the moment where I was like ‘I just want to do this’. I just wanted this to be my life.”
Breen’s three cues have taken her from a ten-year-old kid who could only dream of running in green and gold, to becoming Australia’s fastest ever woman over 100 metres.
Push. Punch. Get over.
Those words help the 24-year-old to get results on the track, but it doesn’t end there for Canberra’s pink-clad sprinter.
Every day, Breen wears a custom-made ring bearing the Olympic rings on her right hand. It serves as a telling reminder of how important being an Olympian is to her.
A great sense of pride is evident when talking about her first foray in to the Olympic Games in 2012, as the mere mention of the ‘O’ word brings a smile beaming with joy.
“I actually found out through my coach, that I was going to 2012.
I ran in about 50,000 B Qualifiers, and didn’t run the A, and missed it by a 5 cent piece. If I just wore a push-up bra I would have been fine”, she laughs.
“There was a period where my coach Matt [Beckenham], he wouldn’t let me run anymore. He said I was just a wreck, I’d lost so much weight. I was so stressed. ‘Just one more, just one more, let me run.’”
Breen feared that could have been it in terms of her dreams of going to London. She may have missed the boat.
“We were being told on the Monday [whether or not they had been selected], and he [Beckenham] talked to [the selection panel] on the Friday.”
Beckenham was sworn to secrecy by the selection panel, but as Breen puts it, “like you’re going to leave an athlete in misery!”
“So he rang me on the Friday and he said ‘All four said yes.’” Breen, not realising what that meant, continued with the conversation. But Beckenham said it again.
“I was like ‘What do you mean all four said yes?’ It just didn’t click. Then he said ‘All four said yes’. And I remember, I was just crying, I was like, ‘I’m going to the Olympics’.”
Breen’s childhood dream was now a reality.
“I’m going to the Olympics.”
A wave of emotion came over her as she cried in disbelief.
“For the rest of my life, I’m going to be an Olympian. That moment was pretty special.”
From then on, the dream just became more and more special as the day she would race in the Olympic Games came closer.
First came the uniform.
“Just trying on an Olympic uniform, you had to pinch yourself. You look down and you see the Coat of Arms and you see the Olympic Rings and you have that stupid moment where you’re like ‘this is actually my life.’”
Then, the Opening Ceremony.
“Walking in to the Opening Ceremony was unreal. That was the moment where you were walking in as part of the Australian team that would be forever in history.”
Breen recounts the moments after her first race as an Olympian with a twinkle in her eye and an undeniable sense of enthusiasm.
Sure, Breen was run out in the heats of the London Olympic Games. Do you think that matters to the girl who had dreamed of being an Olympian for more than half her life? No way.
Following the race, in which Breen ran 11.34, a journalist approached her, asking why she was so happy after being eliminated in the heats.
Taken aback, Breen could only express her joy at finally competing in an Olympic Games event.
“I had achieved something that was only a dream when I was a kid, and I was living it right then. I said ‘I’m happy, because I am an Olympian, and I am competing for Australia, and no one will ever take that away from me.’
It’s all relative to where you are in your career. It was a pretty amazing day and I would love to go back out there and run in the semi-finals but, even if I ran a PB it wasn’t good enough at the time. And that’s okay, because that experience I gained then will greatly help me for Rio next year.”
Not just Rio, but Breen is gunning for big results in Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games. Breen may well find herself on the podium in a nation where she has had so much success.
“I really enjoy racing there. I think a lot can be said about being comfortable in the environment, and then succeeding there. I definitely enjoy racing in Japan.”
Picture this. You are twenty-nine years old, inside Tokyo’s National Olympic Stadium, surrounded thousands and thousands of people. People from all over the globe have united as one to watch the best athletes in the world. And you are standing on top of the podium.