Thorpe, Jones and Lincoln-Smi... | Australian Olympic Committee

Thorpe, Jones and Lincoln-Smith unleashed to inspire hundreds in drought affected community

Author imageAOC28 Feb 2020
Leisel Jones, Holly Lincoln Smith and Ian Thorpe at PLC Armidale Community Open Day

A community bouncing back from one of the worst droughts in decades has been inspired and motivated by Australian Olympians Ian Thorpe, Leisel Jones and Holly Lincoln-Smith at the PLC Armidale Community Open Day.

The Olympic trio joined over 700 students of PLC Armidale, local sporting clubs and members of the New England region to provide inspiration and hope through the Olympics Unleashed program, presented by Optus.

Five-time Olympic Champion, Thorpe, said he really valued the opportunity to share his story and bring positivity to the regional community. 

“Olympics Unleashed, partnering with Optus, is a fantastic program that we’ve been able to do right around the country, and to be able to come to an area that has been affected by drought is really important to us,” Thorpe said.

“We want to show communities that Olympians care about them – we come from communities just like this, and where we can, we want to show our support.”

Olympic swimming champions Thorpe and Jones delivered key-note speeches to the captivated audience, followed by a community Q&A session with Thorpe, Jones and Lincoln-Smith. After the presentations, everyone enjoyed a fundraising BBQ, with meat donated by AOC  sponsor Meat and Livestock Australia, with funds to be donated to the Country Women’s Association Disaster Relief Fund. 

Local sporting clubs set up fun activities so kids could have a go at new sports, while the Optus regional promotion truck put on a twilight cinema experience, showing Olympic favourite Cool Runnings.

Four-time Olympian Jones said that while athletes can’t change the weather, they can bring excitement and positivity to the area suffering hardship.

“When a country falls on hard times, especially with drought, it is nice to get a little bit of reprieve, to talk about positive stories and to enjoy these times,” the nine-time Olympic medallist said.

“If we can provide a bit of a positive experience and get people excited about the Olympics and trying new sports, then that’s great. And people in country Australia are so good at that – they’re so awesome at sport, they’re always out there and having a great go.”

Dual water polo Olympian Holly Lincoln-Smith said the buzz around the event was really special.

“As athletes, we sit here and talk about our journey of resilience, but look at this community – they’ve fought droughts, and fought bushfires and you look around us tonight at this crowd and with the BBQ and the sports, they have put on this amazing event. That is bouncing back, that is resilience and it’s really incredible to see here tonight.”

PLC Armidale 2020 Sports Prefect, Charlotte Caldwell was inspired to have Olympic legends in her school.

“To hear their stories from when they were younger was really inspirational, not only for me but for all the girls in the room and the whole school,” the Year 12 student said.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for the Armidale community to get involved with our school and especially to get involved with the Olympians and Olympics Unleashed. I think it’s a really awesome program that they’ve set up and it was awesome that the athletes got to come to PLC.”

A keen sports-woman herself, Charlotte said the athletes gave advice to inspire her own sporting ambitions.

“There was something they said: ‘it wasn’t about motivation but determination. You’re not always going to be motivated but you have to be determined to get out there and do it’, and I feel that most mornings trying to get out of bed at 6am to do my own training. But I’m definitely going to put that into my sport now.”

London 2012 bronze medallist Lincoln-Smith touched down in Armidale early and visited three Armidale high schools – The Armidale School, O’Connor Catholic College and Armidale Secondary College – to deliver the Olympics Unleashed program to Year 9 students before Friday night’s event. 

“It’s a real honour to be able to come out here to Armidale, talk to these kids, share my story and to have them respond and ask questions,” she said.

“Hopefully I’ve inspired them to chase their dreams – not necessarily in sport, but art or dance or whatever it may be, I’ve unleashed that passion in them to work towards their dreams.”

To find out more about the Olympics Unleashed program and register to have Olympians visit your school, head to

Georgia Thompson