THIS WAS ON THE ATHLETICS AUSTRALIA SITE. WHOEVER WROTE THIS IS RAVING ABOUT A 44.6 SPLIT ON THE SECOND LEG OF A 4X400. THAT’S VERY GOOD, BUT MOST CONVERSIONS I’VE SEEN FOR RUNNING SPLITS TO BLOCK STARTS ADD 1-SECOND, SO A 44.6 SPLIT IS REALLY A 45.6 OFF THE BLOCKS. HMM. HE’S OBVIOUSLY VERY GIFTED, BUT SOME WORK TO GO BEFORE HE’LL CHALLENGE FOR INDIVIDUAL MEDALS AT THE COMM GAMES LEVEL OR HIGHER. BEST WISHES TO HIM THOUGH. kk)
The view from the Hill
With a clean bill of health and a renewed desire to compete, Olympic silver medallist Clinton Hill is back in training and aiming for impact on the world stage.
His absence from the recent domestic season takes little away from his standing; a vital cog in an Australian track contingent that presses as a genuine contender in international sprints.
If anyone can recognise the depth of that group it’s Hill, whose two most high-profile achievements were born in team triumphs shared with his 400 metres counterparts.
Second in Athens for Australia’s first relay medal in 48 years (Hill’s split was a blistering 44.61) and Commonwealth Games gold (as anchor with a 44.93 split), he played a stirring role in each.
But individual success is what Hill craves. No secrets there. Accustomed to it domestically as a three-time Australian champion, it has eluded him internationally since the World University and East Asian Games of 2001.
So with that and his best preparations for the looming World Championships in mind, Hill chose to sacrifice his summer.
“I had a slight achilles issue, not so much achilles but more an insertional issue on the bone,” he revealed. “It got a bit flared up in January this year so we decided not to race, not to risk it and let it settle down so that it doesn’t continue to hang around for a long period – which it probably would have done if I hadn’t have taken the time off.
“The achilles itself is in perfect condition. It was the fibres that attached it to the actual bone on the heel. It wasn’t a normal achilles issue, it was more of a bony type issue. My tendon was still strong, I could still do all the work on it. It was just at high speeds, more so under fatigue, where the angle of the actual leg put it at maximum stretch. It was just a bit comfortable and was something that if I could rather have that not be there and not have to worry about it, it would be preferable than to have to put up with it.
“That’s why we said ‘we’ve got time to do it now, we’ll get it out the way now so it’s not something that maybe did flare up more so coming into World Champs later this year’ or more importantly next year. Just do the right things, sacrifice the domestic season for better results for later in the year and for next year as well – for Beijing.”
But even from the safety of the sidelines, the affable 27 year-old was dealt more bad luck come the Australian Championships in March.
“Once that all settled down and we started to get back into training, I actually was up in Brisbane just to do some media stuff and had some stomach cramps and I thought it was food poisoning,” he said. “To cut a very long story short, it ended up being my appendix. I had to get that removed on the night of the final – the 400. I was in hospital and missed all of that but it all seems to have settled down pretty well now and hopefully that’ll be it for the foreseeable future at least.
“You could say that getting everything out of the way in one hit was the only positive you could really take out of it.”
Not the start to 2007 that it was for young Victorian Sean Wroe, whose scintillating display to claim the national title was some compensation for the discipline in the absence of Hill, 2006 champion John Steffensen and Commonwealth Games representative Chris Troode.
Rewind a tad over 12 months and Hill had fought back from the achilles troubles that had dogged his 2005 campaign and forced his withdrawal from the World Championships in Helsinki. Things had started to click again.
Victory in the New South Wales titles and a personal best of 45.06 at the Telstra A-Series Canberra was followed by a nationals duel with Steffensen that earned a narrow second.
Often neck and neck in healthy rivalry, the Steffensen-Hill combination was formidable in every positive sense. Mouth-watering for selectors and spectators alike, it was a recipe proven in the relay event at Melbourne 2006.
But after a fifth-place finish in his Commonwealth Games semi-final (Steffensen won the individual final), Hill was forced to scrutinise his solo performances.
“I’ve always prided myself as being able to perform at a major championship and at an event where you’ve got to step up to another level,” he noted. “(That was) until Athens in 2004 when I seemed to have a few problems.
“I had emergency root canal surgery done on my tooth just days before my individual 400 metres and that probably knocked my confidence a bit in a major championship. The tooth was infected and I had the infection for 18 months. It took me off the edge. I still couldn’t accept the fact that a tooth could put me that much of my game that I got knocked out in the first round of the Olympics.
“I guess for me now the challenge is to prove, more importantly to myself, that I’ve got the ability, I’ve got the talent and I’ve done the work for me to progress further and to start performing at a major championship in the individual event. In the team event it’s just as special because you’ve got other guys to share it with so you’re not out there on your own. So don’t get me wrong, the team event itself is just as important as the individual but I still want to get that individual reward.
“It’s something I’ve decided and that’s what probably made me move down to Canberra (to join coach Tudor Bidder at the Australian Institute of Sport), was to get that extra bit out and to get my confidence back in a major championships, running around and performing at your best in the final round – the final. At the moment I think the talent’s always there, it’s just a matter of finding what training works best and what preparation works best so come the major championship you’ve done all the right things and you’re going to be executing out your best on that day when it counts.
“Every year since I’ve been here, bar 2005, I have set a PB,” added Hill, whose Australian 400m progression started with a 48.33 effort in 1997. “But I won’t finish up until I’ve run 44 seconds, (do it) again and again and can mix it in the top six, seven, eight, nine in the world.”
And, with his pending goals in mind, Hill is very comfortable with his modified approach.
“At the moment I’m trying to change training a little bit and make it a bit different for the body itself,” he assessed. “I’m doing a lot of work in racing flats to try and minimise the impact on the body. Especially when you’re doing a lot of volume, which we are doing now, there’s just not much need for me to be in spikes at the moment.
“For this stage, it’s just a matter of getting the work done, setting yourself up so that when it does come to racing you’ve got that base and you’ve got work that you’ve done over the previous month that can then carry you through. I’m trying a few new things. If you keep doing what you’re doing and you don’t try all possibilities, you’re not going to know what exactly you can get out of your body.
“I am getting older but I’m starting to come into my own as far as maturity for my race. But you’ve still got to make sure that your body’s in the best physical possible condition. You can get some really good conditioning work done in racing flats. There’s not much difference between them and spikes – probably only a few hundred grams as far as weight goes – but I suppose you don’t have the stresses that come from spikes.
“Spikes are really reserved for time trials and competition and doing speed work and that sort of thing,” he continued. “That I guess will probably come up in the next month or so, we’ll start getting a bit faster and doing more specific speed work. At this stage I’m happy to keep the flats on, do some sessions on grass, do some sessions on the track and quietly just keep the sessions going through.
“Before you know it you would have accrued months and months of base work and fitness and endurance work. It makes going to spikes and going to faster sessions so much easier and the transition will be a lot quicker with hopefully less chances of any sort of niggles or those things creeping up.
“There are a few new philosophies I’ve put into place and I’m confident that some of those I was probably lacking in the past. When you’re young you think you can do everything and keep pounding your body and doing over and over again and it’s just going to keep taking it, but the reality is – it doesn’t matter how old you are – you’re still going to get injured if you don’t do the right things and look after yourself. That sort of approach has changed a bit but hopefully for the best.”
Hill’s professionalism off the track has mirrored his efforts on it; the respect of his peers and mentors extends to both. A natural leader, his strongest qualities are obvious in discussion (and even that’s over the phone).
Formally recognised with co-captaincy of the 2006 Commonwealth Games campaign (alongside WA heptathlete Kylie Wheeler), it was re-locating from South Africa as a 16 year-old soccer prodigy that undoubtedly fast-tracked his maturity.
“Ten years has gone so quick,” said Hill, his accent a warm blend. “It’s pretty scary but I guess time moving fast means things are going pretty well.
“I suppose the last 10 years have been in a period of my life where a lot of growing up’s been done, a lot of recent memories of adulthood and adolescence. I guess when you’re younger those sort of years, they get further and further away – each year that goes by. My best memories are certainly attributed here in Australia and I guess that’s probably why I consider Australia as being home and it always will be for me.”
Excitingly, Hill should again represent his country when the 11th IAAF World Championships are held in Osaka in August, backed by Athletics Australia in an extended 4x400m relay team.
“To be honest, I always considered the spot there for me,” he said. “With heaps of respect to the guys in my discipline, we’ve got a lot of depth in the 400 metres at the moment – probably one of the strongest going around anywhere in the world as far as talent and depth in that respect.
“I’ll always consider myself as being in the top one or two and it’s just something that you can’t start stressing about making teams and making events sort of thing. For me I’m more focussed on how I’m going to be performing at that major championship and just going in there knowing I’m going to be there and how I’m going to get the best out of myself.
“As far as that goes, preparation is on track at the moment. I head overseas late June, I’m not going to have a huge European year this year. I guess that will put a bit of extra pressure on myself to perform but then reduce the number of races that I have to do so that it doesn’t get to the stage where the races were turning into a training session for me and it was just a matter of reps that I had to do.
“I lost that spark and I lost that excitement and that real nervous energy that you associate with competition. To combat that, I’m going to reduce the number of races that I do and make sure that each one counts.”
And, according to Hill, the depth of talent in each sprint discipline and the confidence of Australian athletes in general has grown since 2004.
“For me, I always believed that we could - in the relay sense and the depth - match it to the best in the world and I guess over the past two or three years now we’ve proven that,” he assessed. “Not only in Athens but at the Commonwealth Games we ran a respectable time that would have probably placed us in the top three at the Olympics anyway.
“And that was unchallenged, we ran that on our own and there was no-one else pushing us after John (Steffensen) handed the baton over in the first leg. We were in front and we stayed there for the rest of the race.
“I think success breeds success,” Hill continued. “If people are starting to perform well around you, in the pole vault and other disciplines, it’s infectious. I think a lot of athletes are starting to realise that there’s no excuse, we can’t hide behind the fact that we’re so far away from the action in Europe and that a track’s a track, a pit’s a pit and a high jump’s a high jump.
“There’s no difference anywhere in the world and there’s nothing stopping us competing against the best in the world and bringing back medals as well.”
By Steven Lavell