Former world champion starred for rivals Australia and New Zealand
Following on from my last 11 points it is my pleasure to interview another southern hemisphere squash champion, two-times World Open winner Carol Owens.
Carol won the World Open in 2000 and 2003. She has the unique achievement of representing both Australia and New Zealand at the highest level and is the first female player to win medals for two countries at the Commonwealth Games (Peter Nicol did something similar with golds for Scotland and England).
I first met Carol at the World Junior Championships in Hamilton, New Zealand in 1989. From then onwards, and up until we both retired in 2004, we enjoyed many a battle on court. She was a tough, tough competitor with the best crosscourt lob in the game.
Nowadays our meetings are a lot more sedate, catching up for coffee around Christmas time when she is in Melbourne visiting family.
1. It has been 10 years since you retired. How do you see the state of the women’s game today compared to back then?
That’s a difficult first question. Ten years is a long time and you certainly lose touch when you are not watching the professional game. Of course, I would like to think we were much fitter, faster and more talented!!!!!
2. You had a great career, what were your highlights?
Most definitely my first World Open (right) – Edinburgh 2000. It was an awesome way to start the new Millennium. The first Commonwealth Games in 1998 was amazing and Manchester in 2002, winning gold and silver, was an awesome event. In 2003, my second World Open win was also a special way to end my squash career
3. Who was the greatest influence on your career?
Judith Fitz-gerald was the most amazing technical coach and got me started in squash, Garry McIntosh was my tactical coach who is still a special friend, Vicki Cardwell was a fantastic role model and motivator whose passion for the game is second to none, and Paul Wright later in my career when I moved to New Zealand became my coach and mentor through to the end of my career. I could not have done it without those four instrumental people. I also had an incredibly supportive family.
4. Who was your toughest opponent, and what was your toughest match?
They were all tough, there is no easy way – we all know that. It’s what makes squash so unique. I remember one of my toughest matches I had was with Sue Wright in Kuala Lumpur, close to two hours and I lost in five. I could not walk the next day and I think the referee gave up refereeing after that match! Oops…..
5. When you changed your allegiance from Australia to New Zealand, was that a hard decision to make?
It wasn’t a hard decision, it was a big decision. At the time I felt it was the right thing to do. I was and still am living in NZ so it’s not a decision I regret. Squash NZ were very supportive, which made the decision easier.
6. You are the only female player to win medals at the Commonwealth Games representing two different countries. Did you find the experience different from representing Australia in Kuala Lumpur and New Zealand in Manchester?
Yes, most definitely. Actually, not long after my retirement if I did any public speaking it was always on this topic. NZ being a small country was a very tight, close-knit team and all the athletes were hugely supportive of each other. The Australian team all focused on their own sports and did their own thing.
7. What was your favourite tournament? You visited many countries – do you have a favourite?
I loved playing the Carol Weymuller event in New York and stayed with the Rifkin family for several years who I still keep in touch with. I loved playing in Seattle and Egypt was always an adventure with the most amazing taxi rides!
8. You coach some of the girls that represented New Zealand at the World Junior Championships. Is there a bright future ahead for New Zealand Squash?
NZ has some great players coming through the ranks. It is always difficult in the southern hemisphere for the players to stay motivated as we are so far away from where all the action is! They all have to be prepared to clock up huge air miles to gain ranking points! I think its as good as it can be here in NZ but it takes a huge commitment from the players if they want to make a living out of squash.
9. Ghosting or Court Sprints?
Ghosting, but those days are LONG GONE!!!!
10. What are you up to now? Do you still play?
I work in a sales position for Eager for Leisure, selling Black Knight, Voodoo Hockey, Spank Swim Products and K.Swiss Tennis Shoes. I do 8-10 private squash lessons a week and I run the Junior Programme at Harcourts Eden Epsom Tennis and Squash Club in Auckland. I don’t play at all, it hurts too much!
11. Finally, just going off the subject of squash, if you could invite three people past or present for dinner, who would they be?
Andre Agassi, Shapelle Corby and Jimmy Barnes. Now that would make an interesting dinner conversation!
Pictures from the Squash Mad archive, social media and courtesy of Carol Owens