Athletics: Six medals the target in London
by John Salvado
Tue Jul 26 2011
It might not be fashionable these days for Olympic sports to publicly trumpet their medal targets, but Athletics Australia is happy to buck the trend.
AA national high performance manager Eric Hollingsworth wants six medals in London.
He's crunched the numbers and he reckons it's going to happen.
By virtue of what he calls "the best core of reliable top-end performers we've ever had", Hollingsworth's claim doesn't seem outlandish even though the four-medal haul at Beijing in 2008 was the best by an Australian Olympic track and field squad in four decades.
Leading the way in London will be team captain and pole vaulter Steve Hooker, who has made a mockery of the seemingly arbitrary nature of his pet event by winning every major title on offer since claiming Olympic gold in 2008.
Discus thrower Dani Samuels, sprint hurdler Sally Pearson, long jumpers Mitchell Watt and Fabrice Lapierre and dual Beijing walking medallist Jared Tallent are also elite-level performers at the peak of their powers.
It's a far cry from the 1980s and 1990s, when the Australian team's fortunes often rested largely on a single superstar such as Robert de Castella, Debbie Flintoff-King or Cathy Freeman.
That's what makes Hollingsworth bullish.
"Maybe some other sports are following the political lead when it comes to talking about medals," Hollingsworth told AAP.
"And in our sport in the past, people haven't been game to do it.
"But I'm very much about the performance pressure that makes athletes stand up.
"It's always going to be a big ask in track and field. Six medals is a big increase on anything that has ever happened for Australia (with the exception of the 1956 Melbourne Games).
"That's a big deal, but we're at the point now where we can start to predict with some reasonable sense of accuracy.
"If we get some bad luck with injury then we're going to struggle to get there.
"But the systems have been set up, the coaches are in place and we can be a little more comfortable about predicting what we can do."
Hooker, Pearson, Samuels and co are the cream of the crop.
Discus thrower Benn Harradine and javelin thrower Jarrod Bannister dominated their events at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
The men's 4x400m relay squad are making a happy habit of winning medals on the world stage.
Rising middle-distance runners and training partners Ryan Gregson and Jeff Riseley are getting plenty of good judges very excited.
Craig Mottram's comeback from a string of injuries continues apace.
And then there's the intriguing wildcard that is Jana Pittman.
As one of only two Australians - along with Freeman - to have won two world championship gold medals, Pittman's pedigree cannot be questioned.
But it's been four long, injury-cruelled years since she famously won her second 400m hurdles world title, only eight months after giving birth to son Cornelis.
Pittman has already drawn a line through the 2011 world titles in Daegu after undergoing achilles tendon surgery.
But the desire to atone for some dreadful luck at Olympic level - most notably when she suffered a knee injury a month before the 2004 Athens Games - means the flame burns strong for the 400m hurdler, who will be 29 next year.
Certainly Hollingsworth has kept the faith.
"You only have to look at the one race Jana did this season in Perth," he said.
"To come off the injuries she had and to post that time straight off the bat without too much concern.
"Experts could see she had changed her stride pattern down the back straight and she still ran 55 seconds which says she's still got it.
"The latest setback has cleared the decks.
"We've got everything under control and we know exactly where we are.
"All it is now is putting the work in the legs for Jana and she's been doing that.
"I'm still very confident for her next year."
Pittman aside, the Olympic picture will be far clearer after the world titles in Daegu, South Korea, which run from August 27-September 4.
The official target in Daegu is five medals, with the likes of Pearson staking their claims with victories early in the Diamond League season.
The peerless Jamaican sprint machine headed by Usain Bolt will be in South Korea, along with the bevy of African distance running greats.
Not to mention the very best that traditional athletics powerhouses the United States, Russia, Germany and 2012 host nation Britain have to offer.
And they will be back bigger and better in London in July next year.
It is the truly global nature of track and field that makes Hollingsworth's six-medal wish-list such a tough ask.
It's also what will make it so worthwhile if and when the team delivers.