WAIS Talent Search | Give Yourself the Chance to be Great - Jesse Phillips

Canoe|Kayak - Sprint | Published: Thu 23 August 2018

Olympian Jesse Phillips was a lot like your average teenage kid growing up in Perth.


He was absolutely sports mad and loved playing AFL with his mates. When he wasn’t kicking a ball, you would most likely find him at the beach or hanging out with friends near water.


In some regards, he is an accidental Olympian. Accidental that is, until opportunity found him.


An otherwise routine day at school, many years ago, just so happened to collide with a WAIS talent search at Aranmore College.


A well-trained eye focused upon a young student with the physical attributes that were suitable for sprint canoe and in the simplified version of events, the rest was history.


When Phillips thinks back to that time, he says it was the very foundation of his high performance journey.


"It provided an avenue into a sport which I had never tried but happened to be an ideal fit for me as an athlete, which ultimately led towards the Olympic Games,” he said.


What that doesn’t factor however, is the inner attribute that cannot be assessed at first glance. Character.


Phillips’ success was no overnight feat.


A young and developing Jesse Phillips 


He was far too raw for Athens in 2004. And he missed selection for Beijing in 2008 when a paucity of available positions saw eventual Olympic champion Kenney Wallace and other established senior athletes win selection ahead.


Having been on WAIS scholarship for six years, did he have the heart to commit to a further four – with absolutely no guarantee that the next four would bring anything different?


In his case, the answer was yes. Coming into his athletic prime, Phillips found a willing partner in crime, in the form of South African born, Perth based paddler Steve Bird.


In a sport that is all about technique and developing feel for the water, the duo became the country’s elite two-man combination over 200 metres.


As it always is, selection for the 2012 London Olympic Games was cut-throat. Even though they were demonstratively the fastest in their event, would selectors prioritise two untried paddlers at the highest level when they had existing quality in other boats, with proven experience?


Eventually, their persistence won out. Not much was expected externally of the WA duo, but that didn’t faze them. On rankings, PBs, World Cup performance, or any other metric you could care to measure, they were only there to make up the numbers.


Phillips and Bird however, believed differently and sensationally qualified for the Olympic final in London with a career best performance and would eventually finish sixth in the world, proving to themselves, others and anyone else who cared to pay attention that their determination had all been worth it.


Phillips and Bird acknowledge one another following a career best in London


For Phillips, when he reflects back, that moment is still seismic.


"It’s a fantastic realisation that what has for so long, been a hazy vision of what could be, all of a sudden becomes something which is happening.


"All the reps, sets and sessions that can sometimes seem to not add up fast enough, and at times seem unbearable, which is inevitable on any journey worth taking, all become so fulfilling,” he said.


The combination between Phillips and Bird exists to this day. Bird is working towards a third Olympics in Tokyo and Phillips helps steer that journey in both a training and coaching capacity.


It’s easy to lose sight of where it all began, when the culmination is tied up in something so special. But Phillips says any youngster holding a dream needs only one lesson.


"Give yourself the chance to be great - you might surprise yourself.”



If you’re looking for your chance, WAIS is holding a Talent Search Day on Saturday, September 22 for WA boys and girls aged 13-17. Testing will take place for Canoeing, Cycling and Rowing.


Further details and booking are available here.