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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Brian Roe - Australia should have reps in 100m at Olympics

Brian Roe - Australia should have reps in 100m at Olympics

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Nation's track hopes gaining speed

The Examiner
06 May, 2012

AFTER last year's World Athletics Championships in Daegu, Korea, someone with more than a bit of knowledge about marketing sport told me that athletics in Australia had rocks in its head if it didn't make sure that the country had runners in the men's and women's 100 metres at major competitions.

Others have advanced that same argument in a variety of contexts.

To many an athletics insider, it sounds a quaint concept that one event out of so many on the Olympics and world championships programs should get favourable treatment in terms of development and selection.

But to others, clearly, it is just plain commonsense.

Take former Parramatta Eels strength and conditioning manager Hayden Knowles, who has put his money where his mouth is on the subject to invest in a program that aims to deliver a male in the 100 metres final at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. And Knowles is a former hammer thrower!

He is working with rugby league star Jarryd Hayne, who was a national schools champion at 200 metres hurdles, to establish a scholarship that will provide an emerging male sprinter with a rugby league style salary package over the next four years.

While our women have done better, you have to go back to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne to find an Aussie male in the 100 metres final. There Hector Hogan went even better and snatched the bronze, but it's been slim pickings since.

Paul Narracott finished seventh in the initial world championships in Helsinki but sadly that was a once off.

Matt Shirvington came close to addressing both deficiencies, false starting himself out of a likely finals place in the 1999 world semis and missing the Sydney Olympics final by just two places. But, perhaps emphasising the particular importance placed on the so-called blue riband event, the then early 20-something was the subject of enormous media attention on both occasions.

For the past three worldwide majors, the Beijing Olympics and the 2009 and 2011 worlds, Australia has been competitor-less in both 100s.

Sally Pearson could have, but as she showed at the 2007 worlds trying to be all things to all people doesn't deliver results. She has bigger fish to fry in the hurdles.

As it happens, despite the poor outcomes in the men's individual 100 metres, Australia has had a pretty good record in the short relay, picking up medals at the 1995 and 2001 worlds and being in three other finals since 1993.

But perhaps there is immediate hope of an Olympic presence not only in the relays, where both the men and the women are now inside the top 16 ranking needed for a place in London, but in the two individual races as well.

Canberra's 21-year-old Melissa Breen is the tiniest margin (just .002 seconds) off the Olympic A standard preferred by Australian selectors. But they can use her age and potential for Rio to select her based on the multiple international B qualifying marks she has achieved.

And then among the men is the returning figure of Josh Ross, twice a Stawell Gift winner and an athlete who showed enough in his initial foray into international athletics to indicate he can mix it with the big boys.

After a few years out of the sport, which included a tilt at American football, the big guy is back and not far from selection.

Neither is a realistic 2012 finalist but both could provide Australian athletics with a way of immediately satisfying those who yearn for a sprint presence at the Games.

It would certainly make it more interesting to those millions of Aussies who switch on to athletics every four years and can't fathom why there's no green and gold on the straight track start line. But we may need the likes of Knowles to deliver someone on that start line for a final in due course.

2Brian Roe - Australia should have reps in 100m at Olympics Empty Aussie male sprinters on Tue May 08, 2012 11:21 am


It is a shame that Athletics Australia never sought out the expertise of Jim Bradley who is arguably the greatest sprint coach ever and has lived in this country for the last 40 years!


This is a transcript from the 7:30 report that I believe was on ABC TV last night.

Australia heads to Olympics without sprinters

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 07/05/2012
Reporter: Ben Knight

For the first time since 1936, Australia goes to an Olympic Games without any sprinters, so why is that the case and what can be done to change it?

CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: With less than three months to go until the London Olympics, Australia could be heading for gold and glory on the field, but not on the track. While Australian athletes are shining in events like long jump, discus and pole vault, for the first time since the 1930s, this country doesn't have a single starter in either the 100 or 200 or 400 metre track events. To ask why, here's Olympics reporter Ben Knight.

BEN KNIGHT, REPORTER: The athletics track has never been what you'd call a happy hunting ground for Australia at the Olympics. Perhaps that's why when success has come, it's given us some of our greatest Olympic moments. But not this year, at least in the sprints.

JANE FLEMING, FORMER OLYMPIAN: It's a really bizarre situation, I think. And, you know, they are the sports, they're the events within track and field that the public tend to understand and to relate to as well.

BEN KNIGHT: Unthinkably, even Australia's relay teams are in danger of the missing cut for London. It was just eight years ago that the men's four by 400 team won a silver medal in Athens.

It does matter that we don't have any sprinters because there's some little kid who is watching, you know, Usain Bolt or had watched Melinda Gainsford-Taylor or someone and watching them has changed their life.

BEN KNIGHT: Melinda Gainsford-Taylor retired 10 years ago, but she still holds the Australian records in the 100 and 200 metres. She's now a national selector. But so far, she's got no-one to select in her own events.

MELINDA GAINSFORD-TAYLOR, SELECTOR, ATHLETICS AUSTRALIA: Oh, look, it's obviously disappointing. People do say over the last 12 years, say, from the Sydney Olympics, what's happened to sprinting? And I truly believe the talent is there. It's just them being able to take that next step.

BEN KNIGHT: The only athlete who's come close to qualifying, achingly close, is Melissa Breen. Yesterday in Japan she was once again trying to reach the mark, but once again came up short in awful conditions. Melissa Breen will probably be selected for the Games, but with so much racing between now and then, she won't be in peak condition.

There is one exception: Sally Pearson. She has qualified for the 100 and 200 metres. But she won't be running them at the Olympics. She's chosen instead to focus on the hurdles.

There's been lot of talk this year of the Sydney effect and how having a home Games inspired a new generation of athletes who are now representing Australia across all sorts of sports. But Jane Fleming believes there's another side to the Sydney effect.

JANE FLEMING: In the lead-up to an Olympic Games, every cent is spent on athletes they think are going to make those Olympic Games and hardly any on development, so those developmental years of athletics, all that money was not there.

BEN KNIGHT: Combine that with the long-standing problem of athletics in Australia: trying to keep the football codes from snapping them up.

At this gym in Western Sydney, one of the fastest young sprinters in the world is training. Jarrod Geddes is 18 years old and last year he placed sixth in the final of the 100 metres at the world youth titles. Another Australian, Hugh Donovan, placed fifth. Like most talented runners, Jarrod Geddes is a prime target for AFL and NRL scouts. But for now, he's not interested.

JARROD GEDDES, SPRINTER: My heart's in athletics. I want to be successful at it, I want to put it on the map for Australia. Like, I really want to be successful at sprinting 'cause that's what I enjoy.

BEN KNIGHT: Hayden Knowles believes Australia can produce top-quality sprinters if they can be kept in the sport and he's doing something about it. He's pulled in corporate backing for a squad he hopes will get a runner to the 100 metres final in Rio in four years' time.

I think it's a tragedy to be sitting there and not seeing somebody on that track. And it's possible. It's not impossible; it's possible.

BEN KNIGHT: And they have a very good crop to choose from. Australia is in fact about to send its biggest team ever to the Junior World Championships. But as those juniors move into the adult ranks, they run bang into the need to actually earn a living. And that's when the football dollars become harder to resist.

HAYDEN KNOWLES: You've got most high-profile coach in Australia in football saying, "Hey, mate, come here, you can play, you can play in front of 80,000." Like, they make it attractive for them. They encourage 'em.

It's not about having a flash car or trynna put a downpayment on a house. It's just being able to train. You know, to be the best, you have to train incredibly hard. And that means six hours a day.

BEN KNIGHT: But the focus of Australian athletics has shifted away from the track and towards the field.

ERIC HOLLINGSWORTH, HEAD COACH, ATHLETICS AUSTRALIA (February): At the end of the day, we've only ever had one man under 10 seconds. The bar has been raised by the Jamaicans and the Americans over the last few years and particularly in the sprint and the sprinters haven't come up to that line. It's as simple as that. We're a small nation. We have to compete on the technical events. Things like pole vault, the long jump, etc.

BEN KNIGHT: It's been a successful strategy. Those technical events have produced some of Australia's best medal hopes for these Olympics. It's been done by creating centres of excellence like the National Jump Centre in Brisbane. It was here that coach Gary Bourne turned Mitchell Watt into a gold medal contender in the long jump. Then this year he produced another surprise qualifier in Henry Frain. But there's no comparable centre for sprinters. It's telling that the only sprinter who's come close to qualifying for London, Melissa Breen, was trained by one of Australia's few full-time athletics coaches, Matt Beckenham.

MELINDA GAINSFORD-TAYLOR: There's not any money in coaching. So you're relying on people coaching these athletes who are probably also having to work full-time, make those sacrifices.

BEN KNIGHT: And Australia can't, nor should it, fund full-time athletes in every single event or discipline, but those who love athletics believe the sprints hold a special place.

JANE FLEMING: It's the purest form of sport you can get. Whoever wins the 100 metres at the Olympic Games is the fastest human being on the Earth. And still, that is part of the appeal, even here in Australia; whoever wins the national 100 metres is the fastest Australian standing in our country. And it has an appeal and an aura and a cachet and why wouldn't you want that?

CHRIS UHLMANN: Well the good news is we do have a world record holder in the 100 metres in Paralympics. Well done Evan O'Hanlon and good luck in London. And that was our Olympics reporter Ben Knight.

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