Some athletes enjoy their media responsibilities, some detest it, others understand that it’s simply a part of the remit for a 21st century sportsperson. Anna Flanagan, however, sits in a distinct category. The Hockeyroos star has a degree in journalism, boasts a passion for the written word and has working experience in all aspects of media.
It at all means that Flanagan has a rare view of media interaction compared to most of her sporting colleagues. She has, after all, been both the hunted and the hunter.
Flanagan has enjoyed experience in the radio studio, and working in TV (for Fox Sports). While it is commonplace for Hockeyroos teammates to see ‘Flanno’ bashing away on a blog whenever there is rare downtime in a busy schedule. No prizes then for guessing what her plans are post-career.
For now though, thoughts are rarely away from the impending visit to Rio. There are less than 100 days now until the Hockeyroos’ class of 2016 have their own shot at Olympic immortality. At London 2012 the Aussies finished fifth, despite, somewhat remarkably, conceding just two goals in the entire tournament. But with silver medals at the 2014 World Cup and Champions Trophy, and having recently elevated from seventh to second on the world ranking, Flanagan and her team-mates rightly believe they are well-placed for a genuine shot at ending their 16-year gold drought.
“Physically we are really on track,” Flanagan says. “We are looking at changing a few things tactically in the build-up. There are still a lot of positions up for grabs, and it is very competitive at the moment. We are going in a positive direction, but I’m sure every team is making the most of these last 100 days or so.”
Four years ago, Flanagan, though aged just 20, was a relatively experienced member of the side following an international debut early in 2010 and a Commonwealth Games gold medal win later that same year. Fast forward to the closing stages of the current Olympic cycle, and Flanagan says things are quite different, both personally and for the team.
“I was quite young going into London, yet I probably had more security in my spot back then,” Flanagan says. “We have 30 girls training together, but you could have any number of combinations on the pitch and we would be quite successful. It is really promising with that young talent coming through, but also that base from London will be really crucial.
“There is more pressure on myself now (as an experienced player). Knowing a bit more what to expect, but also dealing with that outside pressure. We now have a real shot at the gold medal, which is a lot more pressure.”
Everyone’s a fan’a Anna
With a yellow hair-ribbon her trademark, Flanagan cuts a familiar and distinctive figure on the pitch. Articulate and thoughtful, Flanagan is one of Australia’s most marketable female athletes. She has over 50,000 Instagram followers – a significant number given hockey’s relatively modest profile. But the Canberra-raised 24-year-old more than holds her own on the pitch. Flanagan was named World Young Player of the Year in 2013, becoming one of the few Australians to do so, and has accrued over 150 caps at such a rate that – barring injury or misfortune – she is on track to become one of the most-capped Hockeyroos of all-time.
With such an impressive CV, both on and off the pitch, Flanagan inevitably will realise her dream of working in the media post-career. So where, and in what field is her dream job? “I have been asked this so many times, but it is just a case of wherever an opportunity arises. Just to be in and around sport basically would be pretty cool.
“I love journalism, writing and the media environment. I have had some work experience along the way, so hopefully when the time comes I will be able to use what I have learnt within sport. I love the people you get to meet, learning about different characters.
“When I have worked in that area (media), I think ‘this is so cool to work in this environment’, but the response is ‘but you get to go to an Olympics, what are you talking about’!
“I have constantly been involved in sport from such a young age, so anything outside that (normal work life), is quite exciting but also quite intimidating as well.
“I have enjoyed trying to share the experience (as an athlete), but also shed light on the tougher times as well. From social media everything might look amazing. You do go through a lot of highs and lows.”
Flanagan is passionate about promoting not only hockey, but women in sport. “I love hockey, it is so fast and skilful and is such a cool sport,” says Flanagan, her tone elevating just slightly.
“Any publicity is good publicity, so it is not frustrating,” Flanagan says, when asked about the Hockeyroos’ peak in media interest every four years. “Our job is to play hockey and perform in the end. Though people sometimes don’t realise you are playing and training over the full four-year cycle.”
Flanagan says while the current level media coverage for women in sport could be dramatically improved, the public profile of Australia’s sportswomen is slowly rising.
“Female athletes are performing at a really high level, you look at the netballers, the Matildas and so many others. They are being recognised for performing at a high level. In terms of coverage I’m not sure (if there has been an increase), statistically I think we had seven per cent of TV coverage last year. (But) That recognition is now more in the public eye now.
“As a female athlete, there are so many amazing female role-models out there. In hockey it is the case, but also you look at the Jess Foxs, the Ellyse Perrys, Jordan Mercer. These girls are doing so well in their chosen fields, but also promoting a really healthy, happy, active lifestyle.
“Growing up I looked up to Cathy Freeman, Katrina Powell, and - knowing what type of faith I put into those types of role-models - it is really important we have that. Especially when you see negative media in some sports, we can turn to our female athletes and see that this is a really good way to behave.”
Indeed at some point in the future Anna Flanagan will not only remain one of those role-models, but part of the media telling us about the great and good of women in sport.