Inspirational leader

AS a motivational speaker, Grafton's tenacious hockey player Brent Livermore is well equipped to talk about becoming the best.

He's recovered from a serious medical condition, rebounded from Olympic Games dejection to reap historic gold, and experienced the highs and lows of elite sport.

You might say the super-fit Livermore is an inspirational Aussie leader.

In Melbourne starting Friday, the Australian Kookaburras hockey captain will have even more psychological pressures to test his resilience as a player and a person.

His wife Belinda is expecting the couple's second child on March 26, the day of the gold medal play-off in the Games city. Livermore has an action plan to exit the Games city in a hurry.

Livermore, 29, has also been cast a challenging new role by national coach Barry Dancer, to attack more in the midfield, on top of his already crucial responsibilities in the centre half role. Dancer knows Livermore, with more than 220 internationals, has the commitment and talent to adjust and succeed. Australia's first match of the tournament is against Scotland on Friday night. "Certainly, he is a core player in our group and one of our leadership group," Dancer said, issuing the new demands to one of his most experienced campaigners.

"He's clearly one of our best-conditioned athletes. He's just an all-round athlete."

You only had to watch Livermore train at Melbourne's State Hockey Centre yesterday to see why he's so fit. Without his shirt, his bronze muscles shone in the afternoon sun as he pounced on balls like a leopard ambushing its prey.

The Livermore story is a compelling one. In 1997, as his hockey career was taking off, 'Livers' began experiencing pain in his knees that failed to ease despite ongoing medical treatment. He was finally diagnosed with polteal entractment, a condition where a person's arteries are blocked. After two operations, he put the setback behind him to continue his international ascent.

Three years later at the Sydney Olympics, Livermore missed Australia's only penalty in the goal-less semi-final shootout against Holland. The cruel defeat effectively cost the Kookaburras a gold medal.

A home crowd of 15,000 fans was watching. Livermore was visibly shattered for weeks. But again, he rallied to return a fitter, mentally stronger, more durable sportsman. His ultimate reward was a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics in a glorious moment that proved determination does conquer adversity. That would make a great title for one of Livermore's motivational talks.

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