Barber shifts her focus to Tokyo

Gold medallist Kelsey-Lee Barber is now setting her sights on next year's Tokyo Olympics.
Gold medallist Kelsey-Lee Barber is now setting her sights on next year's Tokyo Olympics.

Kelsey-Lee Barber has dreamt of being an Olympian ever since she arrived in Australia from South Africa as a wide-eyed youngster.

She turned nine midway through the 2000 Sydney Games, watching on awestruck at the television coverage from her aunt and uncle's dairy farm near the Victorian country town of Corryong.

A spark was lit and a great Australian sporting journey had begun.

Barber's Olympic debut three years ago ended in disappointment when she crashed out in the qualifying round in Rio.

But having become Australia's first-ever Olympics or world championships javelin gold medallist with her clutch performance in Doha, she will likely head to the 2020 Tokyo Games as the gold-medal favourite.

The South African-born Barber tried a number of sports growing up in Canberra and was a very good netballer.

But because the dream was always to be an Olympian she gravitated towards track and field, eventually settling on the javelin after winning the event at the Pacific School Games in 2008.

"I have asked my parents what I wanted to do as a kid growing up - was it a chef, was it a dancer, was it an actor and they said they can't recall any other memory of me other than saying I wanted to be a sportsperson," she said.

"So the drive has always been there, having been exposed to the Sydney Olympics when I came out to visit Australia in 2000 and saw what a spectacle it was

"It was a whole new thing to me.

"I didn't really know what it meant; but it was in Australia, there was lots of noise and lots of excitement about it.

"It was like 'this looks like something I could do'."

The nature of Barber's victory in Doha will go down in Australian track and field folklore.

In fourth spot going into the concluding round, she produced her second biggest-ever throw of 66.56m to vault to first place and then watched on nervously as the final three throwers tried - and failed - to wrest back the lead.

Her timing was perfect on the night - and it's pretty good in an overall sense too.

It's less than 10 months until the Tokyo Olympics and Australian athletics is crying out for someone to fill the huge void left by the retirement of Sally Pearson.

"I find this question quite hard because Sally was the face of the Australian athletics team for a number of years and her success is unbelievable," said the 28-year-old.

"I don't necessarily want to feel like I have to fill her shoes - I think Sally is a stand-alone athlete in her achievements.

"I'd like to think that I could step up and start making a name for myself and start pursuing my goals and coming through that way.

"As much as anything I would love to see a few more athletes beside me in recognition to help the sport grow - I think that is something that not one person alone should have to take on in the sport."

Barber will happily accept any new commercial opportunities that come her way.

She already has a big presence on social media with the catchy Twitter handle of @thatjavelingirl.

"That's a really great story," she said.

"It was part of a uni course I was doing about sports management when we were looking into the social media platforms because it was quite early days.

"We were encouraged to create different profiles for different platforms and I was like 'oh my name is so boring'.

"In the moment it was like ' let's do something fun but still keep it relatable to me'.

"I didn't want to be thatjavelinchick so thatjavelingirl had a nice ring to it and it kind of caught on."

As she now embarks on the road to Tokyo, Barber feels blessed to share every step with her husband Mike Barber, who also happens to be her coach.

She paid tribute to him for keeping her in the moment during the tense closing moments of the final in Doha while also providing valuable technical advice.

"Routine plays such an important part in how you prepare and are successful on the world stage because there are so many elements that are different in these environments," she said.

"The closer you can get to keeping things as familiar and in routine as possible just helps you to relax and set yourself up to be successful.

"I am very lucky to be able to share this with Mike.

"I can't imagine what it must be like for a lot of the other athletes who leave partners and family back home."

Australian Associated Press