Sport

Aussie sprinters are falling too far behind

PLAYING CATCH UP: Australia’s fastest man Joshua Ross (right) was a strong medal hope for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but is currently serving a suspension for breaching ASADA’s athlete whereabouts code
PLAYING CATCH UP: Australia’s fastest man Joshua Ross (right) was a strong medal hope for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but is currently serving a suspension for breaching ASADA’s athlete whereabouts code Getty Images

COULD you name Australia's fastest man?

If you can without searching Google, then you're doing better than most.

On Thursday, Athletics Australia named a 103-strong team to compete at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games - the biggest track and field team Australia has sent to a major overseas competition.

However, this country doesn't have a single starter in the men's 100m.

Some would say that's an absolute disgrace, others would shrug their shoulders and say: "We've got Sally Pearson to cheer".

But the truth is, in the land of speed, Australia barely gets out of the starting block.

Australia went to the 2012 London Olympic Games without any male sprinters in either the 100 or 200 metres, while Melissa Breen was the only athlete selected in the women's 100m despite not having run an Olympic qualifying time.

The blue-riband men's 100m generates the greatest hype and excitement at the Olympic Games, yet without a headline act in the making track sits mired in a slump.

So what's happened to sprinting?

Is Australia no longer obsessed with speed? Has not enough been spent on development? Have the Americans and Jamaicans raised the bar so high it's just too hard?

During a frank discussion with Gerrard Keating at the Hervey Bay Athletics Club's sign on and fun day on Saturday, the former Commonwealth Games sprinter put the onus squarely on the athletes.

While they are increasingly becoming prime targets for the football codes, Keating, who now works as a development officer for Little Athletics Queensland, believed today's crop of male sprinters would rather take the easy option, labelling them "soft".

"Unfortunately with athletics in this country, only a few get sponsorships and can make a living out of it, the rest you have got to work or have to study and that's the reality," he told the Chronicle.

"You can use that as an excuse, but you look at what they do in Africa, the Caribbean or other countries they're far worse off than us but they manage.

"That just comes down to their soft.

"Our generation of sportspeople, particularly individual sportspeople are soft and aren't willing to do the work so will either leave the sport or go to another sport and are happy to play that sport at a lesser level.

"You will find a lot of athletes who are great at school are happy to play for their local club in rugby league and get $200 a week.

"They put that as better than representing Australia and to me that's sad."

Keating was unequivocal in saying Australia can produce the talent to go on and dominate men's sprints.

Sad as it might be, though, our future track and field stars don't know who their heroes are.

Aside from Pearson, Australia's Commonwealth track and field team features no household names- the glamour, flash and superstars who command air time and print space are missing.

With less than four years until Gold Coast hosts the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Australian athletics needs an injection of star power.

We need our star male sprinters. Someone who can not only motivate an entire squad, but also inspire our future Olympians who want to be like him.

While other sports are ridden with success and big names with big personalities, Keating believed Athletics Australia miss the boat when it comes to promoting their top athletes.

"It's the federation's fault for not getting our athletes' names out there and it's not that difficult," he said.

"We need role models and people to know who these people are to get kids interested in the sport."

So who is Australia's fastest man?

That honour would go to Joshua Ross, a seven-time national champion and dual Olympian who is serving a ban for breaching ASADA's athlete whereabouts code.

Ironic isn't it?