by Wade Townsend
There is no bigger stage for an athlete than playing at the Olympic Games, and Melissa Tapper’s dream of competing was finally realised when she set foot in the Rio Centro stadium.
“Achieving a spot on the Australian Olympic team was a dream come true. It took me close to 16 years to achieve my goals. It was one of the most amazing experiences I had ever had.” Melissa Tapper
For Tapper, it wasn’t just about her individual achievement out on the court. For her, table tennis is a family affair.
“I really loved the fact that I was lucky enough to have my parents, my husband, my father in-law and some friends over in Rio supporting me.”
She needed all the support she could muster, because when the Aussie came out to compete in her first match, she found herself up against more than just one opponent.
“One of the most exciting things about competing at the Olympics was the first morning of the Games I got to play against the very amazing Caroline Kumahara of Brazil. And being an Olympic Games held in Brazil it was definitely an experience having 5,000 people cheering against every point that I lost, as well then having my little cheer squad off to the side for every point that I won.”
It was a loss for Tapper, but the applause from the supporters back home echoed over the Pacific Ocean, all the way to Rio.
“The next morning, seeing the response after Australia broadcast my match on one of the main stations in Australia. To see the support and encouragement that I received from everyone back home, it’s something people can only dream of. It was really nice and incredible.”
We fought to the end. The pride I felt stepping into the court today was overwhelming, and having my father and father in law in the crowd brought tears to my eyes. We may not have won the battle but we definitely won the war. Thank you to everybody that has sent me messages of love, support and encouragement it’s been a crazy period but will get back to you all shortly. A massive shout out to my hometown of Hamilton for your insane amount of support, again so so overwhelming. We are not done yet, women’s teams against North Korea on Friday 12th. Until then, we continue to enjoy every moment as it comes. Thank you everyone ??? ?JIM WATSON #teamtapper
Unlike most athletes at the Games, when the curtain closed on the Rio Olympics, Tapper was back in the training hall. There was another milestone on the horizon.
As the first Australian to qualify for both the Summer Olympics and the Summer Paralympics, Tapper had a historic appearance to make soon after the Olympic Games, competing in the Class 10 Women’s Singles at the Paralympics in Rio.
“It was a really strange feeling getting to go back not too long after with a different team but still with the same environment.”
At the Olympic Games, Tapper was an underdog. This time around, she was a favourite to take a place on the podium
“I had another job to do there. After all the training I put in I was ready.” Melissa Tapper
Unfortunately for Tapper, she couldn’t find the medal she was after.
“When it came down to my final match, unfortunately it wasn’t me that got to go through. But in the end
I played my best table tennis and my opponent played better.”
Dealing with disappointment is part and parcel of an athlete’s life. Tapper knows she has to treat the thrill of competing in Rio equally to her disappointment in losing out on a medal.
“I continually get to keep learning from all my experiences, highs and lows.” Melissa Tapper
And while Rio is an experience that Tapper will never forget, it is onwards and upwards from here.
“Back to training we go and see what else we can achieve.” Melissa Tapper