While many sports fans around Australia fail to connect with the Winter Olympics, one Maitland woman simply can’t get enough of the action in Sochi.
Toy Martin has been glued to the television screen during the last week or so watching athletes from around the world strut their stuff on a snow-covered sporting stage.
But besides being a self-confessed sports tragic, Martin relates to these Games well beyond the role of spectator.
Once upon a time, “back in the dark ages” as she puts it, Martin was a competitor at the colder version of the famed five-ringed event.
It was 1968 and Martin travelled to the French city of Grenoble, located in the south-east of the European nation, and represented the US in speed skating.
She finished 14th in the women’s 3000 metres and completed the course in a personal best time, improving her previous mark by more than 25 seconds, but there was more to the experience than just sport.
“It was great and I think in those days we didn’t travel as much as what everybody does now,” she said. “When I first went to Norway [at the end of 1965] . . . in my home town, which was quite small and surrounded by farmland, the only people who had been to Norway had been in the war, or to Germany in World War II or like my father in the Pacific.
“People didn’t travel that much so for me it was a wonderful opportunity to travel and I raced in Finland, Sweden, Norway and all over America.”
Not only were the Winter Olympics a ticket to travel the world but that same journey dictated much of her life, “almost by accident”.
After starting out with a pair of ice skates bought at a pawn shop by her father in Springfield, Illinois, she
graduated from figure skating to speed skating when an official rink was built a mile from her house.
Martin met her future husband while competing in Europe and pursued the Australian cross country skier Down Under after the 1968 Games.
The rest they say is history and after settling in Sydney the couple were lured to the Hunter Valley by their children’s love of horses.
Daughter Brooke lined up with Prue and Craig Barrett at Branxton while son Boyd, who went on to represent the US equestrian team at the 2012 London Olympics, linked with Heath and Rozzie Ryan at Lochinvar.
Martin is now an Australian citizen – still with a noticeable US twang in her voice – residing at Lochinvar and is the vice-captain of Maitland Ladies Golf Club.