Sprinting’s moment of truth
Tonight’s Australian championship 100m finals will be the first real litmus test for the country’s best sprinters since the Australian Institute of Sport program was abandoned last year.
Six months ago, the future looked bleak in athletics’ blue-ribbon event.
The AIS had shut down its sprints program, and for the first time in 28 years Australia did not have a competitor in the men’s 100m and 200m events at the Olympic Games.
Its closure followed the end of the middle distance and the throws programs at the institute, and forced AIS stars such as Patrick Johnson to move abroad.
Johnson Australia’s fastest ever man over 100m told The Canberra Times last September he was confident Australia’s best sprinters would rise up, ‘‘even if people don’t have the faith and confidence in the athletes’’.
The national record holder cruised into the semi-finals of the 100m last night in Brisbane, and will be out to run a qualifying time in tonight’s final for August’s world championships in Berlin.
But is Johnson right in predicting a resurgence of Australian sprinters?
According to Athletics Australia high performance director Eric Hollingsworth, the answer is ‘‘yes’’. He said a look at the size of this year’s world championship team proved Australian athletics was in good shape.
‘‘I’m absolutely happy with where we are heading, you only have to look at the number of A-qualifiers in the overall team already and we’ve got a 4x100 relay team in the champs for Berlin,’’ Hollingsworth said.
‘‘To give a measure of where we are at, in the post Athens team in 2005 only 19 athletes qualified for the world championships in Helsinki, and this year after Beijing the team is looking more like double that of Helsinki.’’
But of the 28 athletes that have posted A-qualifying times for Berlin, just two are in the sprints.
The men’s 4x100 relay team of Johnson, Joshua Ross, Aaron Rouge-Serret and Matt Davies, and Beijing silver medallist Sally McLennan (100m hurdles, 100m) stand alone as the only athletes to post A-qualifiers.
Canberra’s Melissa Breen is the only other athlete likely to make the world championships, her 11.33sec 100m good enough for a B-qualifying time.
That doesn’t mean Australian sprinting is worse off since the AIS sprints program closed, according to Hollingsworth.
‘‘I supported the closing,’’ he said.
''One of the things was for the resources we put in it needed an outcome, and if a flagship program at the AIS spends four years of taxpayers money and doesn’t produce a sprinting relay team then we have to look at the value of such a program.
''The community of track and field generally doesn’t hold up to a standardised process you have got to look at athletics in a different light.
‘‘We’re not interested in squeezing them into a box. If I can’t get 10 sprinters in the one spot, then there is no point trying to force it.’’
The man who coached Johnson to an Australian-best of 9.93sec disagrees with Hollingsworth’s logic.
AIS coach Tudor Bidder * coached Johnson, Adam Miller and Daniel Batman as a training group at the AIS between 2004 and 2008.
‘‘The time I spent in sprints our three guys were arguably three of the best four in the country for that period,’’ Bidder said.
''And they haven’t been replaced, and I think if you continue the isolation theory then that’s always going to be the case.
‘‘The mentality of sprinting has never been working together but if you want to make someone run faster, surely the challenge of running against someone as fast will do that.’’
Five-time national 100m champion Matt Shirvington never trained out of the AIS but said the lack of opportunities for sprinters was disappointing.
‘‘Knowing the facility and the amount of money invested particularly on the new indoor facility, it’s sad,’’ Shirvington said. ''I’m still pretty sure athletes have access to the track and facilities, but the difference is that you’re not being put through a system.
‘‘You don’t have the ongoing access to sports sciences and medical support, and I think that’s vital at an elite level it takes you from being an on the cusp athlete to someone prominent in the Australian team.’’
- Esa Peltola coached Patrick Johnson to run 9.93.