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Kinsela giving back to next generation

24 March 2016

Dual Olympian John Kinsela is back where his sporting career all began, in the Police Citizens Youth Club next to the wrestling mats.

But now it isn’t him sweating it out chasing his Olympic dream, but rather helping the young kids of Mt Druitt in Western Sydney achieve their sporting success.

The 66-year-old has taken on a mentor role in the local community giving back to the youth of Australia after competing at two Olympics and serving his country at war.

“I’m a bit old to get on the mat, but I like to help the kids out,” Kinsela said.

“With young kids it’s a matter of showing them the proper stance and things like that.”

Kinsela was 15-years-old when he took up wrestling at the Police Boys Club in Leichhardt. Within three years he had won selection for the Mexico 1968 Games.

Making his debut at the Olympics, Kinsela suffered three defeats. But it was an amazing experience for him to compete against people from all across the globe at just 19-years-old.

“I was a boy scout when I was younger and Mum always said to me ‘You should go into the army’ but when I made the Mexico Olympics I decided to follow that instead,” Kinsela said.

“We spent 10 weeks in Mexico in total to acclimatise to being over there. It was a great time.”

His sporting career was put on hold when Australia entered the Vietnam War.

“Then straight after Mexico in 1969 I got the call up for National Service and was in the army for two years.

Kinsela did his training in the artillery division in Canungra, Queensland before serving in Vietnam for eight months.

“Some of my mates in infantry probably had it rougher than me but everyone has their own experiences.”

Once he returned from the war he returned straight to training and then less than a year later was selected in the 52kg division on his second Games Team for the Munich 1972 Olympics.

“Going over there and coming seventh was a career highlight. There were only three of us on the wrestling team so we used to train with other smaller teams including Korea.

“Wrestling is the luck of the draw in who you face, I ended up going up against two Europeans who were the fourth and fifth ranked athletes.

“My Mum always said to me if I hadn’t had to stop training because of Vietnam perhaps I would have got a medal.”

Kinsela nominates the Opening Ceremony as a highlight.

“It was different back then it was during the daytime. There were different sports and it was a much smaller team.”

Back in Australia his proud Mum was watching on as Kinsela scored a victory on the opening day of the Games.

“Mum has cuttings from the newspaper which show that I was the only Australian winner on day one. The top line is ‘on a dismal opening day, Kinsela our only winner’.”

For Kinsela the Olympic Games might be a fond memory, but for the youth of Western Sydney and wider Australia it’s a story which they’re eager to hear.

After setting up the club in Mt Druitt, Kinsela has taken a back seat with Seoul 1988 Olympian Walter Koenig stepping in to coach the kids.

Koenig said Kinsela’s given a lot to the wider community.

“John initiated the wrestling program and it’s been going pretty strong ever since.

“We have six national champions at the moment and up to about 20 kids on the mats on Tuesday and Thursday, from 6 to 13-years-old.”

“John gets on the mat sometimes, he gets a good sweat up,” Keonig said with a laugh.

Kinsela is friends on social media site Facebook with the younger athletes who are chasing their Olympic dream and he tries to go to the big competitions every year.

“Everybody calls me Uncle John, even the Police Commission of Mt Druitt, they all know me as Uncle John,” he said.

He comes from a proud family of service to Australia, he’s the nephew of Reg Saunders, the first Aboriginal Australian to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army.

“There’s a new gallery in Canberra which has been named after him, I even went down there last year and had lunch.”

His father was a Wiradjuri man from the Central-West in New-South Wales and his mother a member of the stolen generation who grew up in Adelaide but whose family are from the Jawoyn country in the Northern Territory.

It’s a proud history he wants to share with the next generation and one they're eagerly listening to.

ANNIE KEARNEY
olympics.com.au

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