Toowoomba athletics coach Gerrard Keating has an optimistic view
on the future of regional-based athletes.
Sprinter's move a blow to coach
By Glen Mccullough
5th November 2011
THE 2011 IAAF World Championships promised to be a highpoint in the 17-year career of Toowoomba athletics coach Gerrard Keating.
After almost 18 months working with emerging sprinter Charlotte van Veenandaal, the pair had high hopes for the world titles where van Veenendaal was a member of Australia's 4x100m relay team.
A botched baton change in the heats brought a devastating end to the Aussie girls' championship campaign in South Korea.
But worse was to come for Keating when van Veenendaal arrived back in Toowoomba and ended their partnership to continue her career with an Athletics Australia coach in Melbourne.
Her decision blindsided Keating who did not see it coming.
Van Veenendaal's departure was a personal blow to the disappointed coach but also raises other worrying ramifications.
It brings into question the future of regional-based coaches and the direction of future country track stars.
Van Veenendaal was Australia's fifth-ranked female sprinter when she arrived in Toowoomba to link with Keating in April last year.
This year her national performances were second only to Olympian Sally Pearson.
"Charlotte arrived in Toowoomba as a 22-year-old with some feet injury problems but she had a strong work ethic and will to succeed," Keating said.
"She thought she had a chance here to help her reach the pinnacle.
"Some people wondered why she came here and she was keen to prove any doubters wrong.
"Charlotte and I were on the same page and it was nice to get her to the level she reached.
"I think it showed that you don't have to be based in the city to succeed - you can do it from a place like Toowoomba.
"I wish Charlotte well for the future, but I do believe leaving was the wrong decision.
"The main thing that disappointed me was I felt she let a lot of people here down."
Keating - a former 100m Australian sprint champion and qualified psychiatric nurse - branched into coaching 17 years ago at Toowoomba Grammar School. He is now The Glennie School athletics director. His first coaching success with an individual was 28-year-old mother Sue Butterworth who progressed to national finals level.
Keating also coached Stawell Gift winner Nathan Allen and has worked with a list of leading Darling Downs junior athletes.
"I'd say I've worked with five people over my time that had the potential to go on and represent Australia at the highest level before they moved on to Brisbane and university," Keating said.
"Unfortunately, we seem to lose so many of our athletes in the 20-21 years age bracket."
Ten days after Van Veenendaal's exit, Keating was offered the Vietnam national sprint coaching position which he reluctantly declined.
The timing was perfect for him to head in a new direction, but his heart remains closer to home.
"I'd be very wary of taking on another high-profile athlete again - I've been burned a few times now," Keating said.
"But that doesn't mean we can't produce world-class athletes from centres like Toowoomba.
"We just need to have the right structures in place.
"The Vietnam offer was a great opportunity for me, but I had a few things to weigh up.
"I can also see a great future for athletes where I am. I realise what challenges are here and I want to be a part of helping grow our structure and culture.
"We've got to start promoting athletics in regions like ours."