Nation's track hopes gaining speed
BY BRIAN ROE
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.