Growing up in Perth, Western Australia this young lady had a clear and precise goal: She wanted to be an Olympian. The only problem was, she didn’t have a sport. Her first choice was gymnastics but she knew she was going to be too tall. The Bicton pool was just two minutes from her home and her older sister, Danielle, played water polo, so the choice became clear. Even though women’s water polo was not yet on the Olympic program, there were hopes it would be added to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. So she began a career that set the standard for female water polo players around the world.
As she grew to 5 feet 11 inches tall, Bridgette Gusterson’s size lent itself to the demanding center forward position. Her physical attributes were matched by her fierce determination to master all technical aspects of the game. As a feared center forward, accurate passer and outside shooter, Bridgette was regarded as the best all-rounder in the world in the latter parts of the 1990s. She made her first Australian National Team appearance in 1992 and subsequently represented her country in 212 international matches, scoring more than 400 goals. In 1995, she scored a hat-trick in leading Australia to the World Cup gold medal over the Netherlands and she was the first Australian woman to receive a professional contract to play in Europe, representing the Italian club, Orrizonte from 1995 to 1997.
It had always been her dream, from when she first started playing, that one day women’s water polo would be an Olympic sport. As she grew older the dream became more defined. She would be captain of the team that won the gold medal in the first women’s Olympic tournament.
Amazingly, her dream came true. It started when she assumed captaincy of the Australian team in 1998. A short time later the Sydney Olympic Organizing Committee announced women’s water polo would be added for the first time to the Olympic program in 2000. In the semi-final game against Russia, she scored the winning goal with a clever flick shot over the goal keeper’s shoulder. The final against the United States was even more dramatic as she made the assist that led to the winning goal to break a tie and clinch the gold medal with just 1.3 seconds on the clock. When the final tallies were made, she had led her team in scoring and to add icing to the top of dream cake, she shared the Olympic triumph with her sister and teammate, Danielle.
Bridgette retired after the 2000 Olympic Games, but continues to be involved in the sport as a coach. She resides in Perth with her husband Gary Ireland (former World Champion swimmer/ surf lifesaver) and their son Kalani.