An amazing 20 year Universiade anniversary
Martin Roberts epitomises everything Australian University Sport wants to be and everything the organisation is becoming.
Roberts is intelligent, passionate and dedicated to Australia’s future in sport and has been guiding young Australian men and women at the World University Games over the past six years and at the last three Universiades.
In his final year as Chef De Mission of the Australian Uniroos at the 27th Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia, it just happened to also be exactly 20 years since Roberts won two gold medals as an athlete in Buffalo, USA.
The dual Olympian and Commonwealth Games gold medallist has done it all.
“To represent Australia. No matter when, but to represent at these games and as a student athlete was particularly special,” Roberts said.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it in 1993, it was fantastic, it was my one and only World University games as a swimmer.”
His two gold medals were the only two gold that were won by an Australian at that meet 20 years ago.
Roberts won gold in the 100m butterfly and 200m butterfly at what he admits was the tail end of his career, it came after the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 where he finished 8th in the individual butterfly.
In 2008, the switched on sports scientist, talented swimmer and sports lover was hand-picked by the Uniroos to help change the culture and perception of what it meant to represent the green and gold as a student athlete.
He has accomplished just that.
Since getting on board at the top in 2009, he has seen Australia develop and deliver; the Uniroos have endured two of their most successful Games in history.
First in Shenzhen, China where the Aussie team had their best ever games in 2011 with 16 medals.
And with a team of 151 athletes and a delegation of 206 all up in Kazan, Australia registered the most gold medals ever as the high performance aspect gains momentum.
The results are telling and Roberts’ experience, spirit and leadership have been felt.
“I guess I was involved for an extensive period as an athlete (he had ten years from ‘86 to ‘96 on the national team) and I have been very committed to my own career to education.”
“I managed the Australian Institute of Sport career education program from 1998 to 2001. I have always been involved in the development side of athletes outside of sport.”
At the games in Kazan, just like Shenzhen and Belgrade, the giant kind-hearted sports fanatic slipped in and out of events to support his troops.
He was seen supporting the single Australian rhythmic gymnast in her qualifications, cheered home trap shooter Catherine Skinner who won gold and was in full voice when the emerging Boomers were up against a raucous home crowd in the gold medal basketball match.
Among official duties, Roberts attended all 16 sports Australia was competing in. It is a responsibility he does not take lightly,
“It is still a great honour to put on the green and gold and be a part of the Australian team and a great honour to lead the Australian team.”
The Universiade is the best single training ground for anyone preparing for the Olympics, so Roberts is well supported by a high profile management team and coaches that also have Olympic experience, including gold medallist Duncan Free.
“In terms of logistics and numbers, athletes competing and officials and volunteers and the village. It very much mirrors an Olympics.”
“You just don’t get this environment in any other competition.”
The Universiade has a unique point of difference. Student athletes are a central part of the athletic component.
“It is great. We have intelligent people who are really committed to their sport and committed to excellence both as students and athletes.”
“I think there is a lack of understanding from the Australian perspective. People do focus on the Olympics and the commonwealth games.”
“But I think when people come here, and we are finding a lot of heads of international federations when they come to the Universiade they appreciate the incredible standard that the Universiade is at.”
The ironies in Roberts full story do not stop at his 20th anniversary, he also had a special connection to the first gold medallist of the Games, fellow Adelaide athlete, Samantha Mills.
Roberts grew up at the same surf club as Sam’s father Lyndon and became aware that she was on the team through his uncle, who plays tennis with Sam’s Grandfather Trevor.
It is a small world.
“It is quite funny. But it is really lovely that coming from the same city that Sam won our first gold medal.”
Yet another nice touch in his final year as the Chief.
“I am really glad I can do it from an administrative perspective and offer support, intelligence, history and experience to the younger generation coming through.”
“We have a role in the Oceania region as a strong sporting nation and we think it is an important event. We want to be a part of it. We enjoy competing here and I think Australia’s involvement will continue to grow.”
Roberts’ role as Chef de Mission is complete after an unparalleled contribution to Australian University Sport at the Universiade.
“I never thought that I would be in this role 20-years down the track. You reflect on your time as an athlete. It is all about the younger generation now, and having them learn from a lot of the older hands. “
Australia’s next crop of Olympians who will hold our national hopes in Rio in 2016 and again in 2020 and beyond have been groomed by the best. Thank you Martin Roberts.