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PROTRACK » GENERAL » John Steffensen drama haunts athletics boss Eric Hollingsworth

John Steffensen drama haunts athletics boss Eric Hollingsworth

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John Steffensen drama haunts athletics boss Eric Hollingsworth

by: Glenda Korporaal
From:The Australian
July 25, 2012

John Steffensen talks with Athletics Australia national high performance manager Eric Hollingsworth. Picture: Michael Dodge Source: News Limited

IT was one of those comments that stops a press conference in its tracks. Athletics Australia high-performance manager Eric Hollingsworth was meant to talk about the strength of the Australian track and field team.

But the press conference, in the drama theatre of the Tonbridge School where the Australian athletes are training, was overshadowed by the comments of outspoken 400m runner John Steffensen, who erupted with anger on Twitter two weeks ago when he was passed over for the 400m individual event.

Hollingsworth became increasingly short as he was asked several questions about Steffensen's allegations that he had been the victim of racism by Athletics Australia officials in the past.

Finally he could contain himself no more.

"This isn't a sun tan I've got, ladies and gentlemen," he declared to the assembled press. "I'm very sure of that."

Hollingsworth was born in London to a Polish mother and a father from Trinidad. His message was clear. He is not a racist.

So he was annoyed that Steffensen's outspoken comments and his allegations of racism dominated the press conference.

Steffensen claims an official abused him in Beijing and removed his bags from a room he shared with team captain Steve Hooker at the athletes village.

"The staff member that was involved in that incident in Beijing isn't on this team. So as far as this team goes I don't believe John has any issues with anyone on this team," Hooker said yesterday.

"That is stuff from the past and unfortunately John is still carrying that around with him and still has an issue with it."

Steffensen, 29, a member of the 4x400m relay team that won silver in Athens, has been selected in the relay team for London.

Running almost a second slower at the moment than up-and-comer Steve Solomon, 19, who is also on the 4x400 relay team, Steffensen reacted angrily when he learned Solomon had been selected for the 400m.

Hollingsworth said he still expected that Steffensen would run the relay, despite his public threats not to take part if Solomon was selected for the 400m.

"He is in camp, he's here," said Hollingsworth. "He's going to start his training program once he gets over this setback and we will get on with business.

"My focus is only on Australia and what we are going to try to achieve over the next couple of weeks. The rest of it, as far as I am concerned, is behind me and we are moving forward with what we are trying to achieve."

In sharp contrast to Steffensen, Solomon, who also appeared before the press for the first time since the controversy erupted, insisted he was not affected by Steffensen's comments. He said the chemistry of the men's 4x400 metre team would remain strong.

Solomon, who has just won a bronze medal in the World Junior Championships in Barcelona in a personal best time of 45.52sec (still outside the Olympic A-qualifying time of 45.30sec), said he was not worried about Steffensen's comments.

"In all honesty I wasn't aware of the tidal wave outbreak (as a result of Steffensen's comments) because I was in competition in Barcelona," Solomon said.

Solomon said he was confident the relay team would run well.

"We are all good friends in the 4x400 team," he said. "We are all cracking jokes and having a good time together. I don't think our performance will be hindered by this. In fact I think it may be strengthened by the chemistry that we do have together. It will give us an added edge over the other teams who do come in and run as four individual runners."

Solomon said his recent performances in Europe had given him the confidence that "I am in PB shape and that I can mix it with the best in the world, age or non-age relevant".

Solomon said Steffensen's comments against his selection for the individual 400m did not put any pressure on him in his preparation for the Olympics.

"The biggest pressure that I get from anyone is the pressure that I put on myself," he said. "That is always at the top, so any pressure I get from other athletes is almost irrelevant because I am the one putting pressure on myself to perform.

"I am just really looking forward to going into the championships and hopefully doing the best I can for myself and my country.

"I am in a really happy place at the moment and I usually perform well when I am happy."

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