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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Tamsyn loves 'mothering' Laura Whaler & other young athletes

Tamsyn loves 'mothering' Laura Whaler & other young athletes

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Lewis takes matriarch role but London's still calling
By Daniel Lane
September 15, 2010
Brisbane Times

TAMSYN LEWIS doesn't care if, at the age of 32, she sounds like a mother hen when she extols the virtues of sprinter Laura Whaler.

"She's a wonderful prospect and could be the next big thing for Australian athletics," said Lewis of the 23-year-old from Maitland, who was overlooked for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. "Laura is a talented runner, she is articulate, she's extremely marketable … and she has the best sprinter's arse imaginable. Yeah, plenty of girls are jealous of Laura's backside."

There's not a trace of malice in Lewis's tone when she speaks of what could be a sensitive subject, another female's behind. Lewis recalled how her initiation into the national team as a 15-year-old scarred her so badly she considered retiring before her 16th birthday.

The reason I tend to gravitate to the juniors and 'Facebook' them is because when I was on my first team the girls were actually quite horrible to me," she said. "I have been told since, that in terms of bitchiness [the 1994 Commonwealth Games athletics squad] was one of the worst teams ever. It was an awakening for me. I didn't want to do the sport any longer after my first team because of that environment. I'm glad I stuck with it because the teams are a lot better now and I'm happy to be a part of it."

Lewis says the reason she feels protective towards the younger athletes, who'll compete with her should she go to Delhi for her fifth Commonwealth Games, was because not only had she "seen it all", but the Victorian also feels a debt to those brave few who refused to follow the flock and pick on the ''young kid'' in 1994.

"The athletes handle it a lot better now," she said. "Back in my day, the person who was the nicest to me - the guys were all fine, they didn't worry too much about a 15-year-old and they'd smile and let me do my own thing - was Cathy Freeman.

"She was great, she was young at heart. She was only 22 and a lot of fun. I remember jumping off one of the main diving boards with her and having a good time. I roomed with her in 2000, she was really nice, as was Margaret Leaney, the 1500-metre runner. A New Zealand girl, Toni Hodgkinson, an 800-metre runner, was the nicest to me and helped a lot."

Lewis will be the subject of a tribute race at today's Athletic Allstars meeting at Sydney's Olympic Park.

The world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, will be trackside when she lines up against the nation's most promising 400m prospects on the 10th anniversary of when she - and the woman who stole the Sydney Games, Freeman - entered the Olympic arena.

She laughs when asked whether the "Salute to a Champion" event is her final on Sydney soil. "No. I am going on to the London Olympics," she said in between giggles. "It [a Lewis tribute race] might sound like it, but I am not retiring - I still have some personal bests left in me. My goal is to go to four Olympics."

Whether Lewis competes in New Delhi remains to be seen. "My main concern about India is ensuring my knee is all right,'' she said.

Her decision to focus on 2012 was sealed when London won the right to host the Games and she received a phone call from Lord Sebastian Coe, who, apart from once coaching Lewis, won two Olympic gold medals and was the chairman of the city's bid, urged her to compete. Her coach - and brother - Justin will prepare her for the 800m, the event Lewis was world indoor champion for in 2008. "[The world-title victory] was my most favourite race ever," she said. "It made all the hard work worthwhile. I definitely intend to run it in London.''

After Pamela Jelimo ran a staggering one minute, 54 seconds at Beijing, Lewis decided to bypass the Kenyan to concentrate on the 400m and hurdles. The move was ill-fated. "That's why at the end of my career I won't wonder 'what if?' We had a go at the hurdles and unfortunately I suffered a bit of injury because of the hurdling later on in my career. The women's 800 metres has gone back to a realistic level, they're running 1:58s to win events. That's realistic. If that gives me my best chance to run a final in London, that's what I'll run."

"Let's Go While We're Young"

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