Going to the Olympics is a dream come true for athletes, and being able to take part in your home country is the ultimate.
It was his third Games, but the 2000 Sydney Olympics stands out for Parkes hockey star Stephen Davies as the absolute highlight of his career.
“It was a completely different feel to compete in your home country,” Stephen told The Parkes Phoenix from Perth. “To have the people I grew up with and the people who helped me in my career come to the Games was just stunning.”
The phenomenal experience started in Parkes about a month before the Games with the torch relay through town when Stephen led the parade in a chariot. “The support from the people in Parkes lining the streets and at Pioneer Oval was the most memorable part. The community spirit really shone through. It meant so much to me.” (The local support for Stephen was already on show eight years earlier when crowds gathered on 19th September 1992 for a street parade and civic reception for the first Olympian from Parkes in nearly 40 years.)
He said to have so many Parkes supporters at the Games, the biggest sporting event ever held in Australia, was just incredible. “When we did our warm-up on the field before a match, people would yell out and I had time to spot family and friends in the crowd.” He said there was usually a small window of opportunity after cool down for a quick catch-up too.
It was the only Games Stephen’s parents were able to attend, which made it even more special. “I was able to show them the athlete’s village.”
For Stephen, who became known as the Maradona of hockey having scored 140 goals in more than 274 games in green and gold, the memories of playing hockey at Cheney Park are still very vivid.
“I clearly remember Saturday mornings and the fields filled with people, the whistles blowing, announcements being made, parents supporting their kids… we would go home for lunch and go back in the afternoon to watch the seniors play. The friendships you made were the best.” (When Stephen grew up in Parkes all the hockey fields were grass only. The first turf field was unveiled on the eve of Stephen’s announcement as Parkes’s first ever hockey Olympian. The field was later named Stephen Davies Field.)
While Stephen no longer plays hockey having retired after the Sydney Olympics, he will probably never ‘escape’ it. He has since gone into serious coaching and went to the Rio and London Olympics with the women’s hockey team, he is the West Australian men’s senior coach, coaches at club level and also runs his own academy.
He is very keen to return to Parkes to do some coaching. “I would love to do it. We just have to wait for travel restrictions to be lifted.” In the mean time he stays in touch with two other Parkes hockey stars, Mariah Williams and Kurt Lovett, who are both based in Perth at the moment.
With both his kids playing hockey, Stephen still enjoys going to practise days, to watch the first-grade matches and to catch up with hockey friends.
“No matter whether you chase your dreams or whether you just want to play, the most important part is to never forget you play to have fun. “When you play community sport you are part of a club and a community and part of something bigger than yourself, and that is what it is all about.”
By Maggi Barnard