As the Tokyo Games draw near, eight international athletes from around the world – along with 21 from Poland – are keeping their Olympic hopes alive through financial support from the Pho3nix Foundation.
Commonwealth Games boxing gold medalist Skye Nicolson (AUS), national BMX cycling champion Alex Limberg (RSA), national swimming record holder Murielle Rabarijaona (MAD), track cyclist Orla Walsh (IRL), triathletes Gaspar Riveros (CHI), Felix DuChampt (ROU), and Ognjen Stojanovic (SRB), and rower Joan Poh (SGP) have been recruited into the Pho3nix Athlete Program, which aims to provide assistance to underfunded Olympic athletes so they can compete at their best on the world’s biggest stage and inspire their communities.
These athletes have borne the major burden of funding most of their own training and competition, alongside helping to grow their chosen sports which are not well-known or supported in their respective nations. The Pho3nix Foundation has granted 8,000 Euros to each to help fund their travel, training, equipment, and competition fees, taking a heavy load off their shoulders.
“Boxing isn’t highly funded or highly regarded in terms of government funding, as opposed to say swimming and athletics,” says Nicolson, who intends to bring home Australia’s first boxing medal in 30 years. “While we are definitely in a better position than a lot of third world countries, the difference between going to the Olympics and winning the Olympics is that extra funding and having that backing behind you so that you can train full time, you can be preparing the way the top countries winning those gold medals every Olympics are preparing.”
For Malagasy swimmer Rabarijaona, the extra support has spelled the difference between continuing to train in proper facilities versus flying home to Madagascar. The 22 year old had been training in Thailand on a FINA scholarship, which ended early last year. She extended her stay because the training facility granted her an ambassadorship, but due to Tokyo’s postponement this would end many months before the opening ceremony. The Foundation’s support came just in time.
“I’m already qualified for the Olympics, so my stay here will help me to improve my times and break more national records and maybe be close to the big guys,” she says. “Here I train 10 sessions [a week] including dryland, and I have assistance — nutritionists and everything like that. In my country I don’t have that.”
Limberg plans to use the endowment to race BMX World Cup and Supercross events outside of his native South Africa, as well as the African BMX Racing Championships. The level of track difficulty as well as competition he will encounter at these events will help him get to the Olympic start line knowing he could not have done more to be prepared.
“You can’t prepare for an 8-meter hill on a 6-meter start hill, which we have in South Africa,” he says. “That’s why we need to travel to prepare. If we had one in the backyard, sure I’ll be hours on the start hill but sadly that’s just not the case.”
Singaporean rower Poh plans to use the support from the Pho3nix Foundation to help grow her sport. While also working fulltime as a nurse during this pandemic, she fits in 20 hours a week of training and coaches young athletes on the weekends. She hopes to hire a coach for herself and the athletes she mentors.
“Everything that I’m doing has to have a trickle-down effect. If I have a coach here, the coach can also look after them. At this moment I’m coaching them on top of my training and work, and it drains me,” she says. “Because I can then promise them that even if I do not succeed, I will play my part to ensure the next generation would be placed in a better position to do better than I.”
While these Olympic hopefuls come from four different continents and varying backgrounds, they share the vision of the Pho3nix Foundation: to help children around the world engage in sport and give young sport champions a chance to develop professionally.
After the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Pho3nix Foundation will announce applications for Athlete Program assistance leading into the 2024 Games in Paris.
The Phoenix Foundation is looking for international Olympic athletes to expand their program. To apply, please contact email@example.com.