This Olympic footballer is also a kick-ass artist 2 months ago

This Olympic footballer is also a kick-ass artist

New Zealand football player uses art to help deal with the pressures of top-level sport. 

Olympian Hannah Wilkinson has a hack to pass the time during her two weeks of quarantine now she's back home in New Zealand.

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"I've been doing a bit of doodling," the 29-year-old tells JOE. "It always helps pass the time."

"A bit of doodling" is a drastic undersell for Hannah's talents. During the Tokyo games, her artwork was chosen alongside pieces by five other Olympians as part of a public space exhibition called The Noren Curtains. Her digital artwork was showcased at the Mitsokoshimae metro station.

"It was a real cool opportunity," says Hannah, whose team endured three straight defeats at the games. "I submitted a design and I was one of the artists that was picked and it turned out so cool."

Hannah on the pitch

In Japanese culture, noren curtains often hang in the doorways of restaurants and bars. The exhibition saw the artworks displayed along the edges of walkways in the station, for people to see as they travel. "It’s like a canvas sheet that’s strung in blocks of five or six across," says Hannah. "It’s pretty cool."

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Hannah, who is a musician as well as an artist and often posts videos of her laying down tracks on Instagram, was inspired by Japanese anime culture when it came to submitting her designs. "The original inspiration was Dragon Ball Z 'cause I grew up watching that with my brothers," she says.

"Naturally I was like, ‘Yeah, this fits perfectly. It’s very unique to Japan. That style is appreciated there and I just had a lot of fun with it.’"

The pieces represent various Olympians. Hannah's team are dutifully represented in one image, alongside British skateboarder Sky Brown. The New Zealander describes herself as "so inspired" by the 13-year-old talent. Sky became the youngest ever Team GB medallist when she won bronze. 

"She’s incredible, she’s the youngest skateboarder, youngest medalist, so I thought what better?"

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Hannah's digital artwork depicting British skateboarder Sky Brown

Unfortunately, Hannah never got to see her pieces in person, as strict coronavirus rules prevented her from straying further than the Olympic village. "Which sucks," she confesses.

"I would have loved to have seen it in person, but I didn't have a chance to. I just had a lot of people tag me who were actually there, citizens of Tokyo, people tagged me and sent me the footage of it. I was really thankful 'cause I could see my stuff up there. To see them that big, and people walking past and looking at them. Uh, it was so cool to see that, it was awesome."

But beyond giving pleasure to the public, for Hannah, who has played with the New Zealand national team since 201o, there's a greater benefit to her art. "When there’s a lot of stress with football, playing at the highest level, it really helps me to focus on something else," she says.

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Making digital art "calms me down and helps me escape a little bit," she explained. "You train for three or four hours a day and the rest of the day is yours to rest. The rest hours are what I use my creative side for really."

Mental health was even more of a talking point than usual at this year's games after Olympian Simone Biles chose to prioritise her wellbeing over defending her titles and ended up missing a number of events. Biles' withdrawal - and the way she frankly spoke about mental health - provoked wider discussions about the way athletes cope, and the support systems available.

Art may be Hannah's escape, but there are parallels between her digital art hobby and her day job playing football. Hannah tells JOE she can't resist an opportunity to get competitive, no matter whether her output is brush or boot-based.

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"I'm a perfectionist about it," she laughs.

Another of Hannah's pieces, this one depicting a footballer

"I’m very obsessive about it so I think that can overlap with football. I’m never satisfied..."

But for now, Hannah's looking ahead to her next professional tournament, taking place shortly in Australia, and some time to relax once she has finished with quarantine.

Related links

Tokyo Olympics: Sky Brown becomes Britain's youngest ever medallist, aged 13

How Simone Biles showed us all how to prioritise our mental health

Tokyo 2020 - the best viral moments from the Olympics