Kitty Chiller is a former modern pentathlete who represented Australia at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. In 2013 she was named as the Chef de Mission for Australia for the 2016 Summer Olympics?to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Below is our exclusive interview with Kitty about her journey and her aims for the 2016 Olympics, written by a fantastic author and friend of the FCN, Jo Kadlecek.
When Australian Kitty Chiller competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the odds weren?t exactly in her favor. She was 36-years old, had just injured her kneecap, and was competing in the modern pentathlon, an excruciating event that lacked the glamour and popularity of other Olympic sports. After all, the modern pentathlon includes fencing, 200 metre freestyle swimming, show horse jumping, and a final combined event of pistol shooting, and a 3200 metre cross-country run?all in one day.
Chiller had spent the previous decade at the top of her game, becoming a 12-time National Champion and six-time World Cup finalist. But the Olympics were different?and a relatively new event. Even her fellow teammates weren’t sure about it. Chiller felt somewhat isolated in her quest, but still thrilled to be participating in her country’s Olympics, and placed a remarkable 14th.
Sixteen years later, the Olympian is all the more committed to the Games, this time as the Australian Olympic Committee?s first woman Chef de Mission, or Head of Delegation, a role which oversees all of a country’s athletes and coaches. As she prepares the Australian team for Rio?s Summer Games, Chiller is tapping her own Olympic experiences?as well as her other work with the AOC and the Australian Sports Commission?to create a winning culture for the Aussies.
?This is going to be one of the most challenging Games in the world, in part, because of the geographic logistics, but we?re flexible, on track and getting more and more prepared, Chiller said in a recent interview with FCN. Everything we do now is important, and no one Olympian is more important than another. Each is a part of a broader team and we?re building on that so that our athletes understand and support each other across sports.?
Such collaboration, Chiller said, is what will make the Olympic experience more significant for each athlete. Consequently, every decision she makes has to keep in mind the ?little guy. Everything we do has to mean just as much to our first time badminton player as it does to a three time Olympic swimmer. That’s important to me, that they know they?re all a part of the Australian team.
Chiller?s strategy has meant taking her vision and values on the road, literally. She and her AOC colleagues have held team-building sessions across Australia as a way to help coaches and athletes know what to expect in Rio and what is expected of them. They’ve explored what it means to be an Olympian, their history as Australians at the Games, how best to approach their own performances as a team, and even how to consider the impact of social media on their preparation.
London was really the first Games with social media and we didn?t fully understand how distracting that could be for some of our athletes, Chiller said. This time we’re encouraging them to have a good think about it before hand, to listen to the testimonies of some of our gold medalists who learned how to turn it off so they could focus better. We’re not Big Brother and we know social media can be really helpful in honoring the moment, but athletes need to think about its role as they prepare.
As the first woman Chef de Mission for the Australian Olympic Committee, Chiller says some might think her collaborative approach is related to gender, but she sees it as an extension of good coaching and management.
It’s not about being the first woman, though I’m honored. But it?s about doing the best job I can with everything I have to offer to ensure the best for our team, she said. Do women bring a different perspective. Absolutely. It’s just different, not necessarily better. I like to think of it as perhaps a softer way of balancing the hard edge side of sports, bringing more of a human element to what?s too often become a business approach to athletics. Sure, we’re going to Rio to win medals but we want to provide an environment for every athlete to do their personal best.
Does she think women are represented fairly on the Australian AOC team?
It’s tough. There’s so much travel and that can be difficult with families. But over half of the AOC administration staff (in Sydney) is women and we have seen an improvement in coaching, depending on the sport.
These next few months will be particularly busy for Chiller, requiring that balance and human element as teams qualify and athletes are selected to compete. And though she?s primarily focused on the Summer Games, Chiller hopes the next generation of Australian athletes benefits from their efforts long after Rio.
I’d hope that this one-team concept is something we never forget. We can’t forget where we’ve come from, or what we’ve had to go through to get here, she said. That larrikin attitude (of Australians) helps us remember the real value of sport.
Author : Jo Kadlecek is an American writer living on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia. Recently, she and Valerie J. Gin co-authored a unique women?s sports novel, When Girls Became Lions. (Watch the trailer!)