Background: This study aimed to identify an Australian sporting “hotspot” and gain understanding of factors associated with its production of a greater number of summer Olympic
representatives 1984-2012 relative to population size. This period encompasses Australia’s presence at all summer Olympic Games following the 1981 inception of the nation’s first sporting institute.
The “birthplace effect” has previously been observed across several countries and sports with correlations noted between community size and athlete development outcomes. This study sought to observe
if similar trends exist in Australia amongst a cohort of 1984-2012 summer Olympians.
Methods: The study adopted a mixed-methods approach, with the first stage identifying the “hotspot” using publicly available, biographical data on all known (n=2160) Australian summer
Olympians 1984-2012. Data on athletes’ hometown, schooling and junior sports clubs were predominantly sourced from official handbooks and web pages for the 1984-2012 Australian summer Olympic teams.
Demographic data of the identified “hotspot” was then compared to national averages in order to situate it within an Australian context. A case study approach was used to examine the “hotspot” within
the context of Bronfenbrenner’s ‘Ecological Systems Theory’ and ‘Bioecological Model’. Overall, 42 participants from the “hotspot” sporting community were interviewed regarding their views on its
occurrence and the perceived influence the broader “hotspot” environment may have had on the Olympians athletic development. This included Olympians (n=11) alongside prospective elite athletes and
their parents, high performance coaches, community club committee members and local mayors.
Results: Several demographic, geographic, historical, individual, social and fortuitous factors contributed to the creation of this “hotspot”. Access to built and natural facilities,
climate, family influence, schools, strong community clubs, training and competing with older athletes, access to role models, high socioeconomic status and an endemic sports culture were amongst key
contributing factors to the development of this “hotspot”. For example, family influence was key for several Olympians who highlighted they came from strict, supportive families with strong values and
work ethic. Global high expectations were present and a sense of responsibility encouraged from a young age. Partially attributable to the high socioeconomic status of the “hotspot”, it was believed
Olympians were exposed to high achievers in various fields both within and outside of the family which formed a local culture and expectation of success.
Conclusions: Ultimately, a confluence of planned and fortuitous causes unintentionally created a “hotspot” of Australian summer Olympians. Although some factors appear unique to the
Perth, Western Australia “hotspot”, others are potentially transferable to other athlete development environments. Factors proximal to Olympians including family, individual psychological
characteristics and junior sports environment were perceived by Olympians to have the most decisive influence on their athletic development.