Morgan Mitchell finally finding her way to finish line
by Nicole Jeffery
December 29, 2016
Morgan Mitchell wins the women’s Latrobe Gift final on Tuesday night. Picture: Chris Kidd
Olympic 400m semi-finalist Morgan Mitchell is finally finding her inner sprinter.
It may be a little late in the piece, considering she is already an Olympian, but Mitchell won the first sprint race of her life on Tuesday night, in the women’s 120m gift at the Latrobe Christmas Carnival in Tasmania.
The 22-year-old Victorian comes from a middle-distance background and has never really rated her abilities as a sprinter. But she emerged from her Olympic debut in Rio in August convinced of the need for more speed, something that her coach, former Olympic sprinter Peter Fitzgerald, has also championed.
“Since then we have been focused on speed (in training), because we know that is lacking,’’ Mitchell said.
However, she was “quite shocked’’ to beat a field of 100m sprinters home in Latrobe, from a handicap of four metres, which is likely to be reduced when she runs the Burnie Gift on New Year’s Day, based on her current form. Mitchell said the series of handicap races (she will also run a 400m in Devonport today) on grass was a fun way back into competition after the intensity of the Olympic year.
“I haven’t even started my 400m training yet, so the 400m in Devonport will be a real test for me, but if the speed work I’ve done and the endurance mesh together in the lead up to nationals (in late March), I will be looking for a PB there,’’ she said.
“During the Nitro Series (in Melbourne in February), I wouldn’t mind racing a 150m or 200m. It would be good to test myself against some of the best in the world.’’
Mitchell believes doing three races in a week in Tasmania, and potentially in the Nitro Series, will also serve her well for future international championships, where she will have to do successive high-quality races to reach a 400m final.
The key to improving her current personal best time from 51.20sec to the low 50-second clocking she will need to reach a major final is being able to maintain easy speed through the first half of the race, and then bringing in the gutsy finish that is becoming her trademark.
But she also took other lessons out of the Olympics.
“I need to control my emotions more because I got a little bit too nervous before the Olympic semi-final and I went out too hard,’’ she said.
“For me, it’s about getting more racing experience. I still feel quite new to the sport and the 400m as an event.
“This year was the first time I did the European circuit and I’m not very good at living out of the suitcase, because I get homesick. But it’s time for me to get my big girl’s pants on and get out there and race girls who are a lot faster than me.
“I took a second off my PB this year and if I can get under 51 seconds next year, that will open up more races for me internationally where I can race against the big dogs. I need to know what it’s like racing them. I’m sure there will be a lot of tears but I will learn from that.’’
Mitchell’s long-term potential has been obvious since the day she shocked Australia’s best female 400m runners to win her first national title at the 2014 Commonwealth Games trials, when she was an unheralded teenager.
But it has taken her longer to believe in that bright future than many of those who watched her win on raw ability that day.
“I guess you can call me an elite or professional athlete now, although I still don’t think of myself like that,’’ she said.
“I think of myself as normal Morgan, who works part-time at Adidas.’’
If the rest of the plan comes together, that will change too.