Sydney Olympic gold medalist Bridgette Ireland (nee Gusterson) will enter International Swimming Hall of Fame as the Class of 2017 later this year.
The Perth native captained Australia’s Women’s Water Polo team to gold at the Sydney Olympic Games, the first time women’s water polo featured as part of an Olympics.
Ireland recently spoke to Russell McKinnon for ‘Inside Water’, about the significance of the Hall of Fame.
“It was a huge surprise! I had no idea so it was a really nice thing to receive 17 years after I finished playing,” said Ireland.
“It’s a very special award and of course I feel very honoured especially in the company of the other honoraries, I’m very excited.
“It’s very exciting to remember a few things about my water polo career and it took me back to thinking about all the nice things and the great stuff that we achieved as a group and as a team especially that last Olympic gold medal, it was truly amazing,” she said.
Ireland will join Debbie Watson as one of only two Australian water polo players inducted into the International Hall of Game.
“When I started in 1992, Deb was the captain and she was my idol. I really thought she was a fantastic player and she was an awesome leader and the team did really well underneath her.
“When she came back in the late 90’s, she was such an integral member of our team for 2000 Olympics. She just gave this mature steadying play and she was an inspiration,” she said.
Bridgette Gusterson was born on February 7, 1973, in Perth, Western Australia. As a ten year-old she had a clear and precise goal. She wanted to be an Olympian. The only problem was, she didn’t have a sport. Her first choice was gymnastics but she knew she was going to be too tall. The Bicton pool just two minutes from her home and her older sister, Danielle, played water polo, so the choice became clear. Even though women’s water polo was not yet on the Olympic program, there were hopes it would be added to the 1984 Olympic program for Los Angeles. And so began a career that that set the standard for female water polo players around the world.
As she grew, Gusterson’s tall, athletic frame (180 cm / 5’11”) lent itself to the demanding center forward position. But her physical attributes were matched by her fierce determination to master all technical aspects of the game. As a feared centre forward, accurate passer and outside shooter, Bridgette was regarded as the best all-rounder in the world in the latter parts of the 1990s. She made her first Australian National Team appearance in 1992 and subsequently represented her country in 212 international matches, scoring more than 400 goals. In 1995, she scored a hat-trick in leading Australia to the World Cup gold medal over the Netherlands and she was the first Australian woman to receive a professional contract to play in Europe, representing the Italian club, Orrizonte from 1995 to 1997.
It had always been her dream, from when she first started playing, that one day women’s water polo would be in the Olympics. As she grew older the dream became more defined. She would be captain of the team that won the gold medal in the first women’s Olympic tournament. Amazingly her dream came true. It started when she assumed captaincy of the Australian team in 1998. A short time later the Australian Olympic Organizing Committee announced women’s water polo was being added, for the first time, to the Olympic program in 2000. In the semi-final game against Russia, she scored the winning goal with a clever flick shot over the goal keeper’s shoulder. The final against the United States was even more dramatic she made the assist that led to the winning goal to break a tie and clinch the gold medal with just 1.3 seconds on the clock. When the final tallies were made, she had led her team in scoring and to add icing to the top of dream cake, she shared the Olympic triumph with her sister and teammate, Danielle.
Gusterson retired after the 2000 Olympic Games, but continues to be involved in the sport as a coach. She resides in Perth with her husband Gary Ireland (former World Champion swimmer/surf lifesaver) and their son Kalani.
About International Hall of Fame
The International Hall of Fame, established in 1965, is a not-for-profit educational organisation. Its mission is to promote the benefits and importance of swimming as a key to fitness, good health, quality of life, and the water safety of all adults and children. It accomplishes this through operation of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, a dynamic shrine dedicated to preserving the history of swimming, the memory and recognition of the famous swimmers, divers, water polo players, synchronised swimmers and people involved in life saving activities and education whose lives and accomplishments inspire, educate, and provide role models for people around the world.