Woodbridge: "Olympic success takes you to a different level"

  • Matt Trollope

Having won almost everything a doubles player could possibly win in professional tennis, Todd Woodbridge is well placed to discuss the prestige attached to Olympic achievement in the sport.

He puts his doubles gold medal, won at the 1996 Atlanta Games alongside Mark Woodforde, on the same plane as his Wimbledon triumphs – and believes it has resonated further and with more people. 

Just a few days out from the Tokyo 2021 games, his observations are particularly pertinent given they come at a time when tennis pundits – as they do at the time of every Olympics – discuss the sport’s relationship with the Summer Games.

It differs to almost every other featured sport, in which Olympic gold is considered the highest possible achievement.

Tennis has four other pinnacles, the Grand Slam tournaments, and for 64 years the sport was not even included on the Summer Games’ program of events, until it returned in Seoul in 1988.

"When I go to a school as part of our Hot Shots program and I talk about my career ... the Olympic medals are the trophies the kids gravitate to."
Todd Woodbridge

Yet as Woodbridge notes, the greatest names in tennis – including Steffi Graf, Boris Becker, Andre Agassi, Lindsay Davenport, Venus and Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and the Bryan brothers – all have gold medals, indicating the sport’s finest recognise the significance of Olympic achievement.

And the Australian, who also won silver with Woodforde at the Sydney 2000 Games, said his own Olympic achievements opened doors that his other titles would not. 

READ MORE: Top 10 tennis moments at the Olympic Games

"When we did get home (from Atlanta), everywhere you went you were congratulated for that moment,” he told ausopen.com.

"You found yourself being given a free dinner here, or going to the bakery where they'd throw in a free loaf of bread. It was sort of like one of those situations where the wealthier you get, the less you pay. But this was not about the actual money part – this was about people having felt like they shared in your moment. 

"The Olympics takes an athlete to a different audience outside of their sport. The tennis world follows your tennis successes (on tour), but once you go into that Olympic space, then school kids are doing projects on you because you're in the Australian team. Then when you get a medal, all of a sudden the news is plastered to people well outside of the spectrum of your individual sport. 

"It gives you corporate opportunities that you never had as an individual athlete. You're considered a national identity … and the representing of your nation far outweighs anything you do as an individual achievement.”

Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde pose with their men's doubles silver medals at the Sydney 2000 Olympics
Todd Woodbridge (L) and Mark Woodforde pose with their men's doubles silver medals at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. (Getty Images)

Twenty-five years on from his golden Atlanta games, Woodbridge can still see evidence of how his Olympic triumphs resonate differently to all the other achievements he notched in the sport.

"When I go to a school as part of our Hot Shots program and I talk about my career, I take a Davis Cup, my first Wimbledon trophy, and my two Olympics medals. And the Olympic medals are the trophies that the kids gravitate to,” he said.

"I would rate it (my Olympic gold) equal to winning my first Wimbledon. And I'm happy I have both (laughter)."

Woodbridge’s comment about Australians feeling they had “shared” in the Woodies’ Atlanta victory is something the doubles legend could see happening for compatriot Ash Barty.

VIDEO: Ash Barty - a new legacy

Barty arrives in Tokyo as world No.1, the new Wimbledon champion and arguably the favourite for the women’s singles gold medal in her Olympic debut. 

“That's the thing that the Olympics provides; a family in their lounge room, getting behind that Australian spirit, the unity that it brings. We saw that on a smaller scale with Ash Barty winning Wimbledon,” Woodbridge observed. 

“She is already a household name, but if she can go to Tokyo and win there, this would absolutely cement her in the highest echelon of Australian sport.

“There would be nothing more that she could do to be better than winning a gold medal alongside what she's achieved already. And then, after that, it's just about how much more she does. This would be something just beyond anything that she could imagine. 

“She won Wimbledon for her and her team. This time around, Australia becomes her team.”