Seeing red in the green and gold

3 August 2012

Written by:

Erik van Leeuwen via Wikimedia commons

With the athletics at the London Olympics due to commence today, millions of Australian eyes will be fixated on televisions, tablets, phones and computer screens.

Australians are no strangers to showing their support for home-grown sportspeople; a blanket of green and gold covers every sporting event hosting an Australian competitor.

The 2012 Olympics will no doubt reign true to this image, however, the number of Australians selected to compete at the Olympics is a sad figure. For the athletics in particular, track events with Australian representation is dismal at best.

The women’s 400m and 800m events have not a single athlete competing for a position. But who is to blame?

Australian sprinters Joshua Ross and John Steffensen have blasted Athletics Australia for its selection processes. Despite being the best in the country, they fall short of the ‘A’ qualifying times, which has resulted in themselves and numerous athletes missing out on selection for the Games.

Both champions several times over, Ross and Steffensen, along with other capable athletes such as Tamsyn Manou (Lewis), are questioning the current selection processes.

Manou recently posted via her blog: ‘I am upset and will always be upset that my federation chose to have no female 800m runner rather than select me. Being the best in this country and having world qualifying standards yet it not being enough is heart breaking and disillusioning.  My hope for the future is that athletes aren’t left on the sidelines.’

Years of hard work and dedication to their sport is not acknowledged for our hopeful athletes who miss out because they didn’t run .03 or .2 seconds faster within the small window of opportunity.

Katherine Katsanevakis, who has represented Australia on several occasions including the 2004 Commonwealth Games, is the training partner of Manou, and disagrees with Athletics Australia’s methods.

‘There are many flaws with the current selection criteria’says the former  Junior World Champion. ‘The IAAF set ‘A’ and ‘B’ qualifying standards which allows countries for countries to send two athletes who reach these qualifying standards,’ she says.

According to Katsanevakis, Athletics Australia only sent those who qualified with an ‘A’ qualifying time to the London Games, but in her opinion it seems a little unfair.

‘As no one ran the qualifying time for the 800m, no one was selected. Even though our athletes are more than capable, producing ‘B’ qualifying times on a regular basis, Athletics Australia’s criteria sends a message ‘that if you reach ‘B’ qualifying standard, you’re simply not good enough to represent your country. For women’s 800m an A qualifying time is 1.59.9 and a B qualifying time is 2.01.1, but only two females in Australia have ever broken 1.59.9.’

She is of course referring to training partner Tamsyn Manou and current Australian record holder Charlene Rendina, both of whom ran these times overseas whilst competing against international opposition.

‘Racing in Australia is very different to racing internationally,’ Katsanevakis says. ‘Without the opportunity to compete overseas, our athletes can only improve in so many ways.’

It seems Athletics Australia has the idea that it is gold or nothing. But whilst smaller and poorer countries around the world select athletes to represent their coutries at the Games, even though they may fall below the standard, Australia seems to have lost sight of what the Olympics are emblematic of.

As John Steffensen stated, it’s ‘a chance to represent your country with pride respect and honour and everything the Olympics stands for.’

One of Australia’s most memorable Olympic moments was the Sydney 2000 Games when Cathy Freeman took home gold in the 400m, but with no one given the opportunity to represent Australia at London 2012, this feat may never be achieved again and will remain all but a distant memory.

There is no doubt that a new selection process needs to be introduced into Australian athletics. As Manou says, ‘The future needs to be more about athletes and less about the politics.’ It is only then that our talented Aussies will get the chance to shine on the international stage and carry the nation to an historical victory once again.

Christina Lovrecz is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at La Trobe University and is one of upstart’s staff writers. You can follow her on Twitter: @clovrecz