The Australian Paddle Team athletes weren’t the only Australians representing our country at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, with officials Sue Natoli, Graeme Caudry and Laura White also at the Games.
Sue Natoli and Graeme Caudry were appointed officials for the Canoe Slalom at the Tokyo Olympics, and Laura White was an official at the Para-Canoe Sprint.
Tokyo 2020 was the sixth Olympic Games in an official capacity for Natoli, having started her journey at a home Games in Sydney 2000.
While that event will always hold a special place in her heart, the intense experience of the Tokyo Games will now be hard to beat.
“It was such a special Olympics because it was in such trying circumstances, yet it didn’t seem like that once we were there,” Natoli said.
“I felt so lucky to be able to travel to start with, and then also to be at the Olympic Games.
“It was great to be able to be back with my international colleagues. I’ve been keeping in touch with them almost daily, despite not being able to travel for the last year. But to see them all again was great,” she said.
Like many other Australians, Natoli’s proudest moment of the Games was watching Jessica Fox winning gold in the Women’s Canoe Slalom.
“I’ve known Jess since she was about two years old, and I’m always proud to watch her race,” Natoli said.
“I was the chief judge, so I’m mostly making decisions about whether that was or wasn’t a penalty, and sometimes overturning the judges decisions on the bank.
“Which is what happened in Rio, we had to overturn the judges decision, which ultimately changed Jess from a gold to a bronze medal, which was so gut wrenching.
“So to be able to see her win that gold medal in Tokyo, was absolutely wonderful,” she said.
Graeme Caudry was also at the canoe slalom venue, as a gate judge.
“It was a real privilege to be able to be there, particularly with all the Australian slalom paddlers doing really well,” Caudry said.
“But just to be at an Olympics was sensational. It was still special even though I know from my colleagues that it was quite different to previous Games.
“It’s always good to be back with your international colleagues and be learning from them again,” he said.
Caudry was at his first Games experience in Tokyo and relished the opportunity to be part of the world’s biggest sporting events.
“It’s certainly something that you’re proud of, and it’s funny how my journey that started on the banks of the Yarra River led to Tokyo,” Caudry said.
“For me it all started helping out when my son was paddling, getting roped in to help do whatever was needed.
“And then I ended up standing on the banks in Tokyo at the Olympic Games and all I could think was wow how did that happen?
“Being an official has been a terrific and rewarding experience, and I’d encourage everyone to get involved with the paddling community in Australia,” he said.
Laura White was selected as an official for the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the only Australian at this year’s Games. She admitted that the feeling still hasn’t quite sunk in.
“It was such a fabulous week of competition, it all ran so smoothly,” White said.
“From the officials point of view, we loved being there supporting all the athletes, it was amazing to see such great competition.
“It has been an absolute honour – the International Canoe Federation have selected us, so that in itself is absolutely massive, I still can’t believe it,” she said.
Like Natoli, White’s journey began as a volunteer at the Sydney 2000 Games, and she encouraged anyone thinking about becoming an official to just do it!
“I was a volunteer in Sydney then I’ve progressed through and I can see that happening for so many people who have been here in Tokyo,” White said.
“Every single role is so critical to making it all run seamlessly for the show out on the water.
“Canoeing in Australia is such a family – I started in the sport as a 10 year old so I’ve grown up in it. We really are a close knit community, and it doesn’t really matter what level you’re at, you’re part of the family.
“And so if you want to get involved in a sport, this is a great sport to be in.
“You may get to a point as an athlete that you realise you aren’t going to make it as an elite athlete, but it’s not the be all and end all.
“There are so many ways to stay involved in our sport, and being an official is just one of them.
“There’s even an Olympic and Paralympic pathway for officials too!” she said.