The crowd is a sea of green and gold Australian fans cheering and waving Australian flags and inflatable kangaroos named Shazza and Tilly in the air.
This is the women’s basketball gold medal game between Australia and the Netherlands at the World Dwarf Games.
The Australian team is on edge, grouped in a circle. Team captain Laura Mladenovic desperately tries to connect her phone to the speaker.
It’s a pregame ritual: the team can’t start warming up until Let’s Go Girls, from Shania Twain’s popular song, Man! I feel like a woman, blow into the speaker.
Running out of time, Laura ditches the speaker, turns her phone volume up to high, starts playing, and throws her phone into the middle of the circle.
For the next four minutes, the players sing the lyrics while jumping and dancing, getting rid of their nerves.
Sufficiently warmed up, they make a bunch of hands and shout their team motto: “Slive, slove, slay!” » They are ready to play.
While the Netherlands proved too strong in the gold medal game, the first Australian women’s basketball team to compete in the World Dwarf Games didn’t just win a silver medal. They were a game changer for petite women.
“All the months of hard work and training led up to this point and we gave everything to make history that day,” said Mladenovic, 23.
“To have captained the first Australian women’s basketball team was nothing short of incredible.”
World Dwarf Games levels the playing field
“I was incredibly humbled to win silver on our first ever girls basketball team,” said 18-year-old Lucia Bruce-Gilchrist.
“It was the first time I was able to give my best on an equal footing, and it was so special.”
Lucia has been competing in sports for as long as she can remember. She played basketball in primary school, netball throughout secondary school, and athletics and swimming all her life. But it has always been against people of average height.
“It was never really equal. In athletics, for example, in my 100m and 200m races, I always crossed the line last,” she said.
“I would go into these races knowing I will be last. It is physically impossible for me to cross the finish line before an average-sized competitor, or, for most, very unlikely.”
Experienced athletes and newcomers playing together
The nine women in the Australian team vary in age and background and come from all over Australia. Among them were experienced athletes from the World Dwarf Games and newcomers to the sport.
Kate Colley is one of the newcomers. Before joining the new team, Kate did little exercise.
The 19-year-old felt that playing against or alongside people of average height had never been fair.
She says training for the Games helped her incorporate more exercise into her daily life and also boosted her confidence.
“I thought I would give it a try because you never get that opportunity in normal life,” Kate said.
“Playing with (people) of average height, you will always be the slowest, but (here) you finally have a chance to be a little better.
“I’m more confident. I’m more active. I’m healthier. I’m happier because of the endorphins from exercise.”
For 24-year-old Paralympian Kate Wilson, the World Dwarf Games is about being part of a team.
In 2016, Kate traveled to the Rio Paralympics and competed in several swimming events.
“I was only competing in one sport and I was very focused and a lot in my head,” she said.
“Basketball is a lot more fun and more about building a team. You have to perform well because it affects the other people on your team and it’s not just about you.”
The World Dwarf Games are the world’s largest sporting event for short people, with 500 athletes from around the world coming together to compete in team sports like basketball and soccer, and in individual sports such as athletics, badminton and boccia. , swimming and powerlifting.
Held every four years, the Games are essentially Olympics but aimed at smaller people.
Athletes receive no government funding, so they rely heavily on fundraising and financing their own journey to the Games, including paying for flights, accommodation, training and uniforms.
Women, driving force of inclusion
In 2017, Australia sent a mixed basketball team to the World Dwarf Games in Canada. Mladenovic was the only woman on the team.
“It was a good experience. But when I left, I definitely wanted there to be an all-girls team, because I wanted other girls to have that opportunity,” she said.
Prior to 2017, Australia sent a mixed basketball team to the Games in Michigan, USA in 2013, and Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2009.
Merry Young was the only woman on the 2013 team and one of two on the 2009 team.
Merry is a source of inspiration for Laura.
“Merry was an integral person for the Dwarf World Games, as well as basketball. She started the trend and started this movement of inclusion for women,” Laura said.
The creation of an all-female basketball team began after the 2017 Games.
“There is a new group of female athletes coming in and there are more experienced athletes who have paved the way for women in basketball,” said Sammy Lilly, co-captain of the Australian team and four one-time World Dwarf Games athlete who has competed in the Games since. Australia joined in 2009.
“Last time there was an all-female soccer team for the first time, so we wondered why wasn’t there an all-female basketball team?”
“If we can take over the world with football, we can take over the world with basketball.”
The Future of Short Women in Basketball
The women are hopeful and excited about what this first women’s basketball team and its silver medal means for the future of small-time women’s basketball.
“I think young, short women can see that they will be playing against other short women,” Lilly said.
“Now women can rightly play against each other for medals rather than having to join mixed teams where they are often overshadowed by the men.”
Wilson is excited about what their success means for the future of petite women in sports.
“I think now that we’ve created this Australian women’s team, we’ll always have an Australian women’s team, and that’s really going to grow the women’s sport at the World Dwarf Games,” she said.
The next World Dwarf Games will be held in Australia in 2027.
ABC Sport has partnered with Mermaid Sports to increase coverage of women and non-binary people in sport.
Julie Dickson is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. She is studying a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) at Deakin University and was a member of the Australian women’s basketball team at the World Dwarf Games.