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  • Writer's pictureBen Waterworth

Pure joy: Michelle Heyman’s love for the game supercharged for Paris

Michelle Heyman has achieved many things throughout her football career but one achievement stands out above them all, making the Olympics.

Michelle’s childhood dream was realised at Rio in 2016 when she was part of the Matildas’ Olympic squad that was heartbreakingly eliminated by hosts Brazil in the quarter-finals. Eight years later she is on the cusp of returning to the greatest stage in world sport.

At the launch of the Australian Olympic Team Opening Ceremony uniform in Sydney on Wednesday, to mark 100 days to go until the Paris Olympics, Michelle could not wipe the smile off her face as she stood proudly wearing the stunning green and gold outfit designed by Sportscraft and the footwear by Volley Australia.

“It's an honour to be able to have this and to put this on and to wear it because I think this gives me more inspiration of what I want to achieve. For myself personally and as a team,” she said.

“I was very lucky to go to the Rio 2016 Olympics and achieve my dream. For myself to be able to wear this jacket, to put on this colour, to represent my country, means the world to me. It’s all the sacrifices that I did for myself and what my family has done for me to get me here.

“To represent your country is one of the best things that you could ever do, so I feel so grateful today to put this on, to help inspire me to make sure I get that ticket in a month to get to play.”

If selected as part of the 18-woman squad for the Olympics in Paris, it would cap off a fairytale return for the 35-year-old, who five years ago announced her retirement from international football after failing to make the squad for the 2019 World Cup.

Her domestic career also looked over, after deciding to take the entire 2019-20 A-League season off to look after her mental health.

However, after finding her love for the game again during her self-imposed break she made a stunning comeback, climbing her way through the NPL NSW right back to the A-League with Canberra United, where she has gone on to dominate the goal scoring charts and earlier this season became the first woman in A-League history to reach 100 goals.

After claiming a record third A-League golden boot this season with a record 17 goals, Michelle was soon called back into the Matildas’ squad for the first time since 2018 to cover for the injured Sam Kerr, where she proved her goal scoring prowess on the international stage once more with five goals against Uzbekistan in the two qualifying matches that sent the Matildas to Paris in February.

Michelle said that taking a year away from the sport to reflect and assess her future was crucial when it came to finding her love for the game once more.

“You need to refresh,” she explained. “You need to be able to refocus and not feel fatigued all the time. That's what I was feeling during my last time with the Matildas. So for myself, to spend a year out doing nothing and to be doing other things.

“I got into pilates. I got back into playing touch football. I did the things that I used to do as a kid, and it reminded me of how much I love to play and how much I miss just playing the game of football. So I'm very lucky that that one year turned into being the best thing that has ever happened for my footballing career.”

She also admitted that if she was selected for her second Olympics, it would mean even more than her first time.

“After my retirement... I didn't think I'd ever be here again. So this one I think comes more from the heart and more of that hard work and dedication that I've put in to achieve to get to where I am today,” she said.

“It's kind of like I'm bringing all little bits of emotions from all those years that I've been able to play for my country. To finish it off with something like this would be such an incredible way to jump out of retirement and to be part of these Olympics.”

The Matildas face a tough group in Paris, having been drawn against world number four and four-time Olympic champions the United States, world number five and 2016 Olympic champions Germany as well as Zambia.

Michelle said that despite the toughness of their group, the team is aiming for the top step of the podium.

“We keep making all these tournaments and getting so close. So for ourselves it’s for gold,” she said. “We’re going all the way and I think we have the squad to do it. I think we’ve got the experience now within the team to get that far. It’s going to be a lot of hard work; we’ve got a tough draw. But I think doing that in group stage is pretty impressive to beat the world rankings top five.”

While Michelle will add to that strength and experience should she be selected for Paris, she also admits she would add another important element for team unity and success, to which she believes Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson is very much aware of.

“I think he can see the pure joy that I bring into each camp,” she said. “I'm always smiling. Everyone knows me as that smiling human now. So for me, it's just making sure that I'm doing everything possible to be the best Michelle.”

This article was originally written for The Australian Olympic Team. You can read the published version here


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