By Marc McGowan
THIS year’s Beijing Olympic Games will be both the pinnacle and the end of Narre Warren synchronised swimming star Coral Bentley’s decorated career.
Bentley, 23, will make her Olympic debut in the teams event at the August showcase.
The event will mark the first time Australia has competed in synchronised swimming at an offshore Olympic Games.
“I’m excited, but there is still lots of hard work to come,” Bentley said from the Australian team’s Gold Coast training camp.
“I can’t comprehend it yet. Once it’s over I will understand (what it means to represent Australia at an Olympic Games).”
Australia has made significant breakthroughs in the sport during Bentley’s time at the top.
The 167-centimetre pocket rocket was also part of the national team’s inaugural appearance in a world championships final last year.
But midway through 2007, Bentley reached breaking point as the hardships she was trying to battle through – including the death of her father Michael from cancer two years earlier and the lack of support for synchronised swimming – became too much.
“I kind of kept training and training until I got to the point that I couldn’t do it any more,” she said.
“It’s hard to keep going when you don’t know what you’re doing it for.
“There have been points over the last four years where we’ve been without a coach, which is really hard.”
The financial burden of synchronised swimming is what will ultimately force Bentley into retirement after the Olympic Games.
“We fund everything ourselves. Pretty much no-one on the team can work full-time and have had to leave their jobs for the six months leading into the Olympics to train,” she said.
“If I was being paid to do it, I would keep going, but you can’t live like that forever.”
Bentley’s two-month hiatus from the sport ended in August and it has been full steam ahead ever since.
Her long-time partner Nick Byron, who is one of the country’s top divers and only just missed a spot in the Olympic Games, has been a major support for Bentley.
Without his understanding of her demanding training schedule, Bentley believes it would have been much tougher for her to continue.
She heads to Rome on Monday for an international competition and just as she prepares to head back, Byron will be off to do the same.
“His (Olympic trials) were a lot harder because only the top two in each event make it and he came fourth,” Bentley said.
“From maybe a month ago until the Olympics, we basically don’t see each other.”
The next chapter of Bentley’s life will begin once she returns from Beijing in September.
“That’ll be the end and I’ll start working and earning money,” she said.
“I want to go into tourism to be a travel agent. I’m already enrolled at university and I start as soon as I get back.
“I want to thank everyone who’s helped me get this far.”