By Mikayla van Loon
With the Olympics finally upon us, Australians will be watching with bated breath as our athletes take to the global stage but no community will be watching with more anticipation than Lilydale High School.
Two past students, Kelland O’Brien, 23, and Harry Garside, 24, will be representing Australia in their respective sports, cycling and boxing.
The pair were a year apart during high school and have since gone on to become champions in their own right, even if they have run into each other at events like the Commonwealth Games, where they both won gold medals.
Lilydale High School’s head of physical education Alister Stuart has been a teacher at the school for 13 years and said knowing both O’Brien and Garside had made it was a proud moment.
“They’re both great kids and they are very grounded kids as well, so it’s nice to see them have success and compete in their sports,” he said.
“I suppose for both of them, they share a little bit of a similar story, in that when they were younger it’s not like they were stand out athletes in their younger days, they were both students that had a passion for their activity and they did relatively well but they certainly weren’t the best in the country at those points.
“They have worked really, really hard and continued to pursue what they love and getting to the Olympics is a pinnacle for most athletes and it would be for them as well, so it is certainly fantastic.”
Mr Stuart said O’Brien and Garside were an inspiration to a number of students at Lilydale High School, even before they made it to the Olympics.
“It’s motivation for other athletes out there and we’ve certainly pointed that out to kids at our school, these were kids who didn’t experience a lot of success when they were younger but they have worked really, really hard.”
O’Brien first competed for Australia in 2015 at the track cycling World Championships in under 19s team, where he won gold in the Madison pursuit.
In 2017 he went on to claim dual Oceania crowns and his maiden elite world title at the World Championships in Hong Kong.
But 2018 proved to be his year, gaining dual national and dual Oceania crowns, plus World Cup gold and breaking a world record in the team pursuit to win gold at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
Garside’s success also started in 2015 when he won his first National Australian Championship, which he would go on to win five more of.
Competing in the men’s 60kg weight division, Garside scored gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 against Manish Kaushik from India.
“We obviously saw both of them compete at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and they had great success there and that was a really proud moment for the school,” Mr Stuart said.
“The Olympics is that extra step forward and the school will certainly be watching with a keen level of excitement, they’ll both have a lot of success hopefully, fingers crossed.”
Although the level of excitement around Lilydale High School has been diminished slightly by remote learning, Mr Stuart said he is hopeful that should students return to school, they can build up the excitement in class.
“Previously we haven’t had any students in this situation and to have both of them competing is absolutely fantastic.”
“It’s really exciting, even to get one student to compete in the Olympics is an amazing thing but for us to have two is absolutely amazing.”
“We will be watching very keenly and hopefully they can get two gold medals. I know they are both in very good positions to win gold, so hopefully they can do it.”
O’Brien was selected as part of the Australian track cycling team for endurance. Qualifying rounds for cycling begin on Monday 2 August.
Garside will take on Papua New Guinea’s John Ume on Sunday 25 July in the first of his men’s lightweight boxing fights.