ASHLEY Brehaut remembers sitting in the dining room with United States basketball's Dream Team and tennis star Andy Roddick nearby. Brehaut caught a bus with Australian swimming's golden boy Ian Thorpe and ate breakfast next to him.
The whole time, from the Olympic village to the Athens' opening ceremony, Brehaut said it was surreal to be a badminton boy from Ballarat among such sporting company.
At the same time, Brehaut felt he deserved to be there: he too, was an Olympic athlete.
There is no doubting Ballarat's rich Olympic history and the pride our sporting community has in an impressive athlete roll call.
Badminton tends to be one of the city's overlooked Olympic gems with six Ballarat-made Olympians - Murray Hocking, Peter Blackburn, Kellie Lucas, Erin Carroll and the Brehaut brothers, Stuart and Ashley - plus a world-class badminton stadium led by Blackburn's Olympic doubles partner Rhonda Cator.
The legacy Ballarat has in this sport should never be underestimated.
Stuart Brehaut is preparing Australia's badminton team in Tokyo as the nation's head coach. One of his charges Gronya Somerville, from Melbourne, has had coaching input along her playing journey from both Brehaut brothers, Cator and Carroll ahead of her Olympic debut.
What is it about our badminton to reach such heights, let alone a host of other international contenders in our ranks?
Ashley Brehaut and Blackburn say it is the sporting culture in this town and, for them, growing up in such a great stadium.
"Mum was playing when Stu and I were in prams," Brehaut told Press Box. "The story goes we used to grab racquets and run on to the court annoying everyone, so Mum thought to put us in a competition and hopefully we'd leave everyone alone."
There was sibling rivalry, with Brehaut pushing to live up to his older brother's standard and his brother determined not to get caught. But Brehaut said having that family connection made the Olympic experience feel a little more normal.
He admits it feels weird to have his brother back at the Games, in a different role and without him.
Tokyo 2020 is a little strange for Blackburn too. After representing Australia in badminton in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, Blackburn has been a television commentator for the sport.
This will be his first Games purely as an armchair fan.
Blackburn also grew up in the city's badminton community with his parents and brother David, a state-level player, heavily involved in the sport.
He said family, the Ballarat community and the city's badminton community were vital in his development as an athlete from junior ranks through to the Victorian Institute of Sport and into the national squad.
"Badminton was so popular back when I was competing. The Ballarat stadium has 18 courts, one of the biggest in the world, and they were full most nights after work - it was a challenge to book a court," Blackburn said. "I have so many wonderful memories competing in the Olympic Games, and competing in a home Olympics that I could share with so many family and friends."
Blackburn made his Olympic debut in the same Games as Ballarat's Murray Hocking in Atlanta in what was the start of Ballarat's on-court Olympic badminton influence. Erin Carroll was the last, then aged 22, in an exciting late call-up to the team for Beijing 2008.
Best known as a rich Olympic sporting ground in athletics, basketball and rowing - the latter event Ballarat hosted in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics - Ballarat athletes stood out in a range of fields not often associated with the city. Badminton is but one.
This includes six-time Olympian Russell Mark in shooting with Mark to take-up a commentary role from Tokyo; Tamsin Hinchley swapping indoor volleyball at the 2000 Games to beach volleyball in Beijing 2008 and London 2012; Shayne Reese was swimming in Athens 2004; and, of course, one of Ballarat's two original Olympians Bobby Bath was a boxer in Melbourne 1956.
Blackburn and Brehaut agree the moment you truly feel you are an Olympian, a rite of passage, is the opening ceremony: the long build-up in a stadium's underbelly, walking out as one with the world's best and the Olympic cauldron being lit.
They hope, even amid a pandemic, Australian athletes get the chance to feel how special it is to reach an Olympics.
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