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Athletes Confidential

The real stories behind the sportspeople

Kathryn Mitchell (Javelin) Interview

Kathryn Mitchell (born 10 July 1982) is an Australian javelin thrower.  At 30, Kathryn made her Olympic debut at the London 2012 games finishing 9th. Proving she is only getting better with age, Kathryn backed this up in at the Rio 2016 Olympics by finishing 6th. This year she already has the qualifying standard needed to compete at another world championships. Her personal best is a whopping 66.10m. I hope you enjoy this interview as I have had many requests for throwers. Kathryn has given some great insights into some great moments (including the Olympics) and tough times (injuries and bad coaching) in her career so far.

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What are the best and worst aspects of being a professional athlete?

The best part of being a professional athlete is being able to pursue my passion for a living. It’s not a lot for a living but it allows me to train and put everything I can into being a better athlete. It allows me to travel and see many beautiful places. The lifestyle of being fit and healthy is also great.

The most challenging aspects are definitely injuries. They can come at any time even when you are in great shape and really derail your training and competition.

I believe you didn’t take up javelin until you were 14 years of age after your sister had borrowed one from school to practice for her sports carnival with. Can you explain this story, please?!

Yes, we grew up on a small farm and one year my sister borrowed a javelin from the school to throw around the paddock to practice for the school sports and I had a go. I didn’t get to do a competition in javelin until I started high school when I was 13 years old. I broke the school record in the first competition.

Prior to that, did you play many sports growing up?

I played tennis and basketball early on but I always loved athletics. Before javelin, I did long jump and sprints. I made the state team for long jump when I was 12. As a teenager, I also umpired the boundary line for the local football league.

It wasn’t until 17 you took javelin seriously. What steps did you take to pursue this dream?

I met my first coach from Ballarat when I still lived at home in the country town of Casterton. We used to drive 3 hours to do training with him. After year 11 I decided I wanted to move to Ballarat and train every day. I told my Mum and she worked with my coach to organise it with changing schools, living etc. I boarded in Ballarat for year 12 and started training daily. It was a  very difficult time for me because I was homesick.

12193594_1105809982783243_5459350921728538543_nRevisiting Casterton in 2015.

Do you remember a moment in the ensuing years where you thought you could make a career out of this?

I always dreamed of being the best in the world and earning a good living from the sport but it never happened. I changed coaches when I was 21 and hardly improved my distance for 6 years until I met my current coach. My first coach gave me a great start but my second coach was a total fraud who led me to believe in him when he knew nothing about javelin. It’s an extraordinary disservice to an athlete for a coach to lead them in the wrong direction. During that time I could have stopped many times and people even thought I should consider this. I stayed in Australia and worked to support myself while I trained. In the end, I was quite lost but then I met my current coach who turned my career around. I am afull-timee athlete now but its nothing like what I dreamed about all those years ago!

I guess in 2006 you came to national attention really by finishing 6th at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. How was this experience for you?

Making the Commonwealth Games team in 2006 was a highlight. How exciting to represent your country in front of your country; your friends and family. It was an amazing experience and I threw not badly but not great. The memory of that competition is sadly tarnished still to this day by my former coach who told me in our post season review that it was “one of the worst performances he’s ever seen and if it was not my first experience at international level he would kick me out of his squad”. I went into that meeting more motivated and inspired than I’d ever been, and left as a deflated flat tyre. I don’t know why I didn’t leave him then.

In the years to come you performed well but just missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics despite winning nationals. Do you think you weren’t quite ready? Was this a big setback?

2008 was finally the year I woke up. Not making the Olympic team was a disappointing time but nonetheless the catapult to change. I threw 7 “B” qualifiers and was national champion but wasn’t selected. At the time I wasn’t happy but having now been to 2 Olympics at a higher level I think it was the right decision. In a country like ours with opportunity and privilege 60m is the minimum you should throw to represent the national team. I had never thrown 60m before that and I don’t think I was ready for the craziness of an Olympic Games. I guess I could say it was a blessing. I finally stopped believing my coach’s crap and left.

However, in 2012 you made the team for the London Olympics finishing 9th at 30 years of age. You said you were proud to be there. Can you explain the feeling of making your Olympic debut?

2 years after meeting my current coach I threw 60m for the first time and threw almost every competition that year over 60m. 2012 was a breakthrough year for me. I broke down many barriers  both physically and mentally. Even though I did not throw my best in the final in London it did not matter. The year had been so great and the whole Olympic experience was amazing.

378282_463982043632710_1387601502_n                        Throwing during the 2012 London Olympics.

Fast forward to the 2016 Rio Olympics and you finished 6th. There seemed to be a lot of happy emotion from this result and some disappointment. I guess this showed how much you had improved mentally and physical since London. Can you explain exactly your feelings then and now reflecting on this result?

The year of 2016 was the best of my career by a long way. I threw consistently well through the domestic and international season. In Rio I was in the shape of my life but could not quite execute the throw I needed and knew was in there. The competition was so close and it could have fallen any way. That was where the disappointment lay; I couldn’t do what I needed to do in those moments I had. A little part of my spirit died that day and I don’t feel the same anymore. Still, It was an amazing competition and I am proud of what we did there, for the season and for the preparation for the year. I still think I can be better, I still think I can throw further so that’s what we are focussed on now.

Injuries are so common for Javelin throwers with the strain you put on your body. This was evident during the recent Nitro athletics where you threw great despite clear shoulder pain. Can you go through some of the injuries you have faced? How do you deal with these and rebound from them?

There are not too many parts that haven’t been injured in my body. My shoulder is wear and tear now, which we need to manage until the end of my career. My most influencing injury was in 2015 when I had patella tendonitis. It came on my right knee, which is the one I need to land on, on an angle sideways after the cross step. I made some great progressions in technique in 2014 when I threw 66 but the injury in 2015 undid much of that work and I regressed a lot. I basically competed only in the world championships and a few other competitions and could not throw much because of pain. The training I did do was compromised technique and it really ruined the whole year.

I am proud that I have had long career with only one minor surgery on my ankle and nothing major on elbow or shoulder which is common for throwers.

You completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Human Movement) and I believe you now work in this field? I know you have said there is not much money in Javelin, so how do you manage work with your sporting career?

I don’t really use my degree anymore. I worked in fitness for many years to support myself but now am full time in athletics. I have a few options for after my career but I’m not sure exactly what I want to do. I will probably do further study at some stage.

Finally, do you believe you have some improvement left in you and perhaps another Olympics?

I have not committed to Tokyo but I have not ruled it out. I think I can do better than what I have done so far, so I am concentrating on that for now. As long as my body can and my mind willing, there are no limits. I always had a dream to be Olympic Champion so I guess there is still unfinished business…

Lastly some quick fire questions-

  • Best event? I have to say speer.
  • Toughest event? Men’s 110 hurdles.
  • Toughest competitor? Too many to choose. Jan Zelezny (men’s jav WR holder) won 3 Olympics and 3 World titles. He could respond to massive throws when he needed to. I’d have to mention our own Sally P (Pearson) in there also.
  • Favourite memory from athletics? Watching Freeman win the 400m on the TV at the Sydney Olympics.
  • Toughest training session? Lifting during general power phase. Lots of burning!!!
  • Are we catching the drug cheats? No, they will always be a step ahead.
  • Is the future of Javelin in Australia looking strong? And will Nitro be the answer to help promote the sport in general more? Yes, we always have good juniors coming up, as long as they are developed the right way and coached well. Nitro did a great job in promoting the sport and I think other competitions around Australia could take inspiration from this and reinvigorate the sport.
  • Finally what do you do to relax? We’ve just been home long enough to do some landscaping so I’ve been in the garden a lot and learning new things. I’m a pretty quiet person and like to stay at home a lot to relax. Home is my sanctuary.

 

Please check out our partner https://www.photographers.com.au/sport for amazing sports pictures.

Josh Ross (Sprinter) Interview

 Joshua Ross (born 9 February 1981) is an Australian track and field sprinter with an incredible 100 metre personal best of 10.08. This was all done during a golden era of Australian sprinting which included household names such as Matt Shirvington and Patrick Johnson. Josh is a 2-time Olympian and Stawell Gift Champion, plus a 9-time national champion, who despite his success has had many disappointments along the way as you will read. Despite all this Josh is still always striving to get the best out of himself and I am sure you can all take something from this interview.

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What are the best and worst aspects of being a professional athlete?

There are many great aspects to being a professional athlete, for me the top pick is always being healthy, being super fit and looking great. When you’re proud of your body you feel better about yourself which gives you confidence, and when you have confidence and self-belief there is nothing you cannot accomplish.

Again many bad aspects, personally for me it is the politics involved. Sometimes they can dictate your level of success or failure in a Major Competition. Sometimes it’s not the athlete that chooses their path, and that can affect their level of financial success within the sport and have negative effects on their mental and spiritual well-being.

Apart from some little athletics and school competitions, I believe you were much more involved in rugby league as a child. Explain your level of involvement in athletics as a child and the events you competed in?

Actually, I was involved quite a bit in both sports, made rep sides for league and was quite successful. But for me, you couldn’t beat the feeling of sprinting, Which is why I pursued it as I got older. From 7-16 years old I did Athletics full time, I never trained during that time I just turned up and ran. I made state and national teams, I became Australian Champion in the Long-Jump when I was 10 years old with no training or spikes. I made Trans-Tasman teams which means it’s New Zealand VS Australia battle. I went to many schools growing up and was always the fastest kid at every school, I won many awards and broke many records that still stand to this day. When I turned 16 I stopped all sport until my return at age 19.

At 19 you decided to stop representative Rugby league and give athletics a real go. What was the reasoning behind this decision?

From 16-19 years old I didn’t do any sport I was sick of it, I guess at that age all you want to do is party and hang out with mates, so that’s what I did. It wasn’t until I watched the Sydney Olympics and saw Cathy Freeman & Maurice Green run that it sparked a little fire within me, I thought to myself maybe I can go to an Olympics one day, in fact it was my dream as a 10-year-old to go to the Olympics and be like my idol at the time Carl Lewis. So the next day I rode my bike down to the local athletics track and asked Gerry Thomas if I could start training with him and his group, he said of course! 4 years later I was at the next Olympics in front of 90,000 people competing next to the guys I’d seen on TV 4 years earlier and I was one of them!

Just a few years later you won the prestigious Stawell Gift in 2003. Can you explain that moment? Did it give you the confidence you needed in athletics or was it already there?

In 2002 I won the Arthur Postle 70m race at Stawell and failed to make the final of the gift, I was still young and very green. So coach and I made a plan to come back in 2003 and win the gift. The year leading into the 2003 gift I was training to win off 5m, I was running very fast times in training that were competitive. But when coach called me 2 weeks out from the gift and told me that they gave me a 7m handicap, I screamed out the window while I was driving comeeooooooonnn! I already knew I’d won before even turning up. I’ve always had a silent confidence that came out when I needed it, I remember when I first started pro running I was getting smashed! But at the end of the day, I’d look back at the track and tell myself  I’m going to beat everyone one day soon and do something special. The more you win the more confidence you have. Confidence comes from within, everyone has it, you just have to develop it.

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The next year you competed in the Athens Olympics in the 100m sprint and 4 by 100m relay. How was the Olympic experience for you? Did it live up to the hype?

My first Olympic experience was everything I hoped for and more! Was incredible, when I was lining up for the 100m heats I just looked around the whole stadium just to soak it up. I had a sense of belonging. I felt relaxed and comfortable. There is no better feeling of running in front of 80,000 people!

In 2004 you also had the honour of winning the Deadly Award for Male Sportsperson of the Year. How important is your Indigenous heritage to you? Do you see it as important to be a role model for the Indigenous community?

It’s very important to me to know my cultural background and I’m very proud to be a part of the oldest living culture on earth. I didn’t know that I had Aboriginal blood until I was in my teens. The Indigenous blood comes from my father. I now paint and sell Aboriginal art and I’m always learning more and more about this fascinating and wise culture. It’s very important for me to be a role model not only within the Indigenous community but also the non-Indigenous community. However, I know that there is a separation between Indigenous people and the way society is today. It’s a sad truth, but if I know I can do my part, however small it is then I know it makes a difference. One small ripple can travel across the ocean, and that’s the way I need to think about it.

In 2007 you ran the fastest 100m time by an Australian on native soil, 10.08 seconds. Unfortunately, you missed out on selection for the Beijing 2008. How did you deal with such disappointment?

As with any athlete’s career there are ups and downs, it’s like a roller coaster ride, sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. The most important thing is to not stay down, that’s the easy way out.

I’m reminded of a great quote by T. Harv Ecker..“If you are willing to do only what’s easy, life will be hard. But if you are willing to do what’s hard, life will be easy.” You gotta keep your eye on the long-term prize and delay instant gratification. I cut my losses and tried to take something positive away from it and then moved on to the next year. Also, it’s very important to surround yourself with a team of people that are on the same train as you, whether it be friends, family, or coaches. A support team is vital. You can’t get to a high level in this sport alone.

In 2010 you retired, before coming back in 2012. What did you do during that time away and did it give you a fresh perspective?

I was ready to give the game away and just become a personal trainer, however that all changed when I met my current coach Piero Sacchetta, he said to me Athletics might not be the sport for you right now however why not try a different sport? So we thought of all the Australian sports that my athleticism would suit, eventually we came up with NFL. So I trained for 6 months in Australia then went over to the states to train as a wide receiver, the goal was to become the first Australian wide receiver the game has ever seen. I impressed the coaches however didn’t make it. So late December 2010 I came home and started training for the London Olympics.

In 2012 you missed out on individual selection for the London Olympics (you did go however for the relay). This was during a time where Athletics Australia was very tough with their selections. You protested along with John Steffensen and Tamsyn Lewis. How do you view this now?

I wouldn’t say that Athletics Australia was tough on their selections, I’d say they were making up different rules for different athletes as the Games got closer. They put multiple athletes with B qualifiers in and left me out, which is odd given that I was in the shape of my life and possibly could of made the final of the 100 and broken ten seconds. I think at the time logical common sense was taken over by egocentric small minded humans. The decisions were not made for the greater good of Athletics in Australia, the athlete or looking towards the young aspiring athletes of our future. Which is quite sad. I’m happy that John, myself and Tamsyn took a stand. I believe that after that, selection criteria started to change and get better for the next generation of athletes coming through, I like to think that we made a huge contribution to that. In saying that, it still sits in my gut and I use it as fuel to propel myself to greater success.

In 2013 you missed 3 drug tests and were suspended for 2 years under the Australian Sports Drug Authority’s Athlete Whereabouts code. For me, this seemed very unlucky based on the circumstances around the incident. Can you explain what happened if you don’t mind?

We found plenty of flaws in their system and I quote Asada’s lawyer. ”Even some innocent heads have to roll in order to keep the system working.” Let’s just say that not all organisations have integrity or behave in a professional manner.

You had never been done in your long and distinguishing career for drugs so I thought there might have been some leniency as you weren’t seen to have drugs in your system once tested after missing the 3 tests either. How did you deal with this huge setback? Was it very hard emotionally?

I think after doing one sport for so long and then having it taken from you for 2 years is always going to be tough, but they can never take away the thing that I love which is running, I can do that anywhere. The way I dealt with it was to keep training, I trained for 18 months straight until I was able to compete again, I’m not saying that was easy but I’d rather do that than put weight on and get depressed about life. I find it vital to work on your mindset on a daily basis. That definitely helped along with having a great support network around me.

You came back in 2016 and had some solid results but failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics. What are your plans now? Do you believe you can get back to your very best?

I’m now training in America and working on cleaning up my technique, I believe very much I can get back to my very best and beyond. I’m always working on becoming the best sprinter I have not yet become. Constant and never ending improvement is the game.

14553219_215042888956030_788910901578170368_n                                         Image by @SPRINTBOSS (Josh’s Instagram) via https://www.instagram.com/sprintboss/?hl=en.

Finally, do you have a message for your supporters?

Thank you for always having my back and believing in me,  I have much more in store so stay tuned.

Lastly some quick fire questions-

  • Best race? I have so many but if I were to pick only one it would have to be winning Stawell off scratch in 2005.
  • Toughest race? I don’t view races as tough, only as a challenge.
  • Toughest competitor? Myself
  • Favourite memory from athletics? Having my Mum in the crowd when I won my first Stawell Gift.
  • What drives you as an athlete? There are many reasons, family, to become the greatest Aussie sprinter of all time, break the Australian record, the feeling of winning, great performances. The excitement of how far my potential can take me, what level can I reach. I don’t want to be average, I strive to do more and be more.
  • Toughest training session? Would have to be 6x150s up the hill with walk back recovery, that session will have you crawling and moaning in pain for 20 minutes, not for the faint hearted.
  • Is the future of Australian athletics looking better? And will nitro be the answer to help promote the sport more? It’s hard to say, I think Nitro is a great way to promote the sport and create some buzz short term, however long term I believe it would be wiser to not pay international athletes large sums of money for an appearance to come out and beat the Australian athletes on home soil, it would be much wiser to put the money into better facilities, bringing accomplished coaches to Australia to learn improved training methodology, investing in better education, putting the money into our athletes to become better at their craft. When our athletes improve and have more success on the world stage then that would lift the profile of our sport, with that comes more funding to inject back into growing the sport. It also creates more buzz and gives the Australian public something to look forward to. Until this happens I can’t really see any big changes.
  • Finally, what do you do to relax? I paint Aboriginal art, listen to music, read personal development books, audio books, long drives, movies, green tea. RUN 😊

 

 

Justin Norris (Swimmer) Interview

Justin Norris was an Australian swimmer who on debut won a bronze medal in his home Olympics at the Sydney 2000 games. In this race, he has the claim to fame also of beating the now greatest Olympian ever in Michael Phelps! He also went on to win triple gold at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. Justin talks about these incredible achievements and what he did after swimming, in this fun and interesting interview.

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What are the best and worst aspects of being a professional athlete?

Best parts – feeling fit, winning stuff, trying to be the best at something.

Worst parts – disappointment of missing out on results you wanted, getting up early and longing for a sleep in.

Tell us what age you got into swimming and how Justin?

I guess I was around 4 or 5 just down the local outdoor pool in summer – Stockton Pool. I was going to local swimming club when I was 6.

Just after your 18th birthday in 1999 you moved to Canberra after being awarded an AIS scholarship. How was this change for you? Scary at times?

No, I wasn’t too scared – it really felt like the right thing to do at the time. I had just been a part of the Australian Team for the 1999 Pan Pacs in Sydney and I felt I had to be training with my rivals at the AIS from then on.

The year after you made the 2000 Sydney Olympic team for both the 400-metre individual medley and 200-metre butterfly. How was the feeling of knowing you had been selected for a home games particularly?

Yeah, that was a big shock. The first event I won the 400IM I knew I had trained really well leading up to it and all signs pointed to a new best performance but I didn’t think I would go that fast to make the team. My attitude going into that meet was to make everyone else ‘earn’ their spot and not make it easy for them.

What expectations did you have leading into the games?

I thought a final would be good enough to make me feel satisfied. I also didn’t win the Australian trials in the 200Fly so that gave me motivation to not be the second highest placed Australian.

Once in Sydney, you didn’t swim your best in the 400-metre individual medley. Knowing you had one event left, what was your mindset after this result?

Haha good question. Yes, it changed my mindset. I actually made the final and came 6th but I didn’t swim my best time ever in the final. I remember doing the heat and going absolutely 100%, not holding anything back because I didn’t want to be one of those people who could have swum faster but missed the final. But I just couldn’t recover for the final, that was hours later. It was really hot in the athlete village and we had no air con in these little portable cabins, so not the ideal preparation.. no excuses but I just had nothing more to give that day. After I finished that race I was totally spent and I had the 200 Fly heats the very next morning so I thought “oh well, I may as well go as hard as I can and hope I make it”. I was really flat but I got through the heat and made the semi. Then I had a good rest and made the final and felt strong. The next day I felt really light and relaxed because I had been so low, the only place to go was up!

Now to the 200-metre butterfly, where you made the final. In this final, you attacked the race so hard that you were up with the leaders in the first 100 metres. You managed to hold on for the bronze medal, with the crowd going nuts. What do you remember from this race now?

Yeah, that was not usually my style. I think in the semi I was like near the back of the field with 50 to go and ended up surging the last 50 to make the final. In the final, for some reason I just decided to not think and I felt really light and fast, like really on top of the water. In the warm up, I just felt amazing which was a nice feeling as usually you don’t but you hope to! I kept up with the guy next to me who went out very fast in the first 100m but I felt good. Then at the last turn I had gone past the guy next to me but my legs fully locked up on the last turn and I was dead, I thought ‘uh-oh’ but knew I just had to not think and keep it together. That’s why I was so happy when I got a medal because with one lap to go I just had to put my head down and hope.

Afterwards I am not sure if I have ever seen anyone so happy to win a medal!! Explain the emotion if you can?

I think the first feeling was just that feeling of hoping, hoping, hoping but not expecting. Like when you really hope for an amazing Xmas present as a kid but don’t really think you have a chance of actually getting it but there might be the smallest chance. Then you open it and it is actually the present you hoped for!

 

2002 saw you achieve the remarkable feat of winning triple gold in the 200 and 400-metre individual medley and the 200-metre butterfly at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. You must have felt onto of the world? Did you feel unbeatable here and can you explain what this feeling is like?

That was a weird meet. I swam well but my competitors all swam poorly. So they made me look good! Ha! In the end, I felt that tired but still won the 200IM (the last event) – it felt like a school swimming carnival where you are that tired but you still win.

51530964          IMAGE BY Gerry Penny Via http://www.gettyimages.com.au/detail/news-photo/australian-justin-norris-poses-with-his-gold-medal-after-news-photo/51530851.

You made the Athens 2004 Olympic team but unfortunately failed to qualify for any finals. How much of disappointed was this? Why do you think you weren’t able to produce your best form looking back?

That was really disappointing. Probably the first time in my swimming career that I was baffled initially at the result and didn’t have a reason straight away. Usually, if you don’t swim well there would be a reason – like a disrupted preparation, or illness, or mistake with strategy etc but I just couldn’t see a reason initially. I was just so flat but my training has been the best ever leading up to it. I remember being with my coach after the 200 fly semis in the event I had hoped to challenge Phelps for the gold and we were both just standing there and looking at each other not knowing what to say. Looking back I think I as too tense for many months before it and probably should have kept my life in balance more in the lead-up and not been so single minded.  Should have had faith that I was doing the training and it was ok to have more fun in my break time (have a beer, chocolate bar, go for a surf, etc etc).

Not too long after these games, you decided to retire. You were still pretty young, so what was the main reasoning behind this decision?

My wife was pregnant and we moved back to Newcastle where we are both from. I still swam for a little bit but then ended up not really swimming anymore once my daughter was born and we started out swim school business.

Since then you have had 4 children and started the swim academy. This must all keep you very busy? Can you explain the joy you get from all this and how different life is from when you were swimming?

It’s different. I can’t imagine doing all the training I used to do. I remember being an athlete and thinking it would be so much easier just getting up in the morning and NOT having to get in the water and just be a coach. But even now that seems really hard! I guess I enjoy seeing the kids do well at stuff and feeling like I’m a part of their success in some way.

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Your daughter Sabre made headlines last year making her debut in the Sydney Pro at Cronulla for surfing at just 11. On top of this, she appeared on the Ellen show and various other media outlets. It appears Sabre and your other children Sockie, Biggy and Naz are very much into surfing. Are any of them keen on swimming as a possible career like their father?

No, not swimming. My son seems to have some natural talent for swimming and they have all swum since they have been born. Swimming’s important for their surfing but I can’t see them being Olympic swimmers.

Lastly some quick fire questions-

Best race? Hmm, best result would be the 200 Fly at the Olympics but the funnest would be 400IM at the 2002 Commonwealths, just because I was kinda hating life until the last 50 Freestyle and stole victory.

Toughest race? Probably 200IM when I was 14 years old at National Age titles – I just got second but really thought I was a good chance to win. Tough to lose.

Toughest competitor? There’s a few –  internationally,  Phelps of course. In Australia, I would say Travis Nederpelt, Grant McGregor.

 Favourite memory from swimming? Sleeping with my Bronze medal after I won it in Sydney Olympics! And the food hall afterwards – just eating as much as we could.

Toughest training session? Been a few – I would say when I was 13 we did a set of 10 x 400m at best effort timed. If you did under a target time it counted as 1, if you did under a faster target time it counted as 2 and if you did slower than the first target time it didn’t count at all. It was a good challenge and I swam all mine under the best target time. I’ve also swum 3KM butterfly time trial.

 Are we catching the drug cheats? I’m kind of out of the loop but it would seem likely that I swam unknowingly at the time against people who were on drugs that weren’t caught at the time. I hope we are catching them now.

How is the future of Australian swimming looking? I think it’s looking good. My favourite on the team is Thomas Fraser-Holmes as I swam with him when he was 13.

Finally, what do you do to relax? Now to relax I like watching the surfing contest webcasts, and skateboard competition webcasts. Just watching the latest surfing videos and web clips. And watching reality TV.

 

 Please check out our partner https://www.photographers.com.au/sport for amazing sports pictures.

Madeline Hills (Runner) Interview

Australian Madeline Hills (nee Heiner) achieved the remarkable feat of making the final of the 3000 metre steeplechase and 5000 metres at the 2016 Rio Olympics,  finishing top 10 in both. What makes this story more extraordinary however is the fact Madeline was just a few years into her comeback from 8 years off running! In this long-ranging interview find out what she did during the years away from running, how she indeed came back to such a high level and much, much more. I encourage you to read this a few times as it has some great insights. 

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What are the best and worst aspects of being a professional athlete?

While technically I have been a professional athlete for a number of years, it’s only post-Olympics that I feel I really identify as one.

Best aspect – the opportunity to travel with my running and to connect with so many interesting people from around the world. It’s a very unique lifestyle and one that I feel incredibly fortunate to experience.

Worst aspect – the long periods of time I spend away from my husband, Chris. I was lucky to have Chris with me in Europe in 2016 for a week and in Rio for the first 3 of my 4 races – on all other occasions I have travelled alone overseas.

You did not take up running seriously until you were around 15 I believe? Did you do much running before that or other sports?

I had a very active childhood but organised sport was never a focus. I competed in swimming, touch football, track and cross country throughout school but didn’t take anything particularly seriously. My true passion through my childhood was music and I would happily spend hours inside playing the piano.

By 17 you were representing Australia in top international junior events. This quick progression obviously showed you had some talent? Did you realise this yourself?

I really didn’t start to train with any structure until 2004 – when I was 16. I’d spent the previous year training twice a week with other members of my running club – Kembla Joggers. It was casual, social and a lot of fun. We would train at the beach and around the local parks – we never measured distance and never trained on a track. When I was 16 I met Dave Chisholm, a local coach who guided my junior career. Dave delivered a low mileage program with a focus on consistency. I idolised my training partners, Lachlan Chisholm and Jared Poppett, and I thrived immediately. Within months I had qualified for the 1500m at the 2004 World Juniors (as a 16 year old). While I had some good performances on the track, I don’t believe I was ever a standout – I consistently finished between 2nd and 5th place at nationals – as a junior my Australian titles came only when XC moved to 6km. At 2004 world juniors I was definitely outclassed but I was encouraged by the fact I would be eligible for the next world juniors in 2006. My other notable performances came at World Cross Country – I placed 16th (2005) and 18th (2006) over the 6km distance.

As a junior, I was obviously aware of my talent, though I don’t remember feeling a great confidence in my potential to progress to an elite level.

In 2006 you somewhat surprisingly retired after just a few years of running under your belt. Explain this big decision?

2006 was a brilliant year for me athletically. I had 2 attempts over the 3000m steeplechase, (with the intention to nab a spot on the team for Melbourne Commonwealth Games) running world class times for a junior athlete. I did run the qualifying time though was outside the top 3 and so missed selection for the CG team. I was however selected for 2006 World Juniors (1500m, 3000m SC), finished 18th at World Cross Country and signed my first contract with a shoe company. In 2006 I also experienced my first injury – ITB syndrome – presenting as a consistent nagging pain around my knee. The injury occurred in the months leading into world juniors and as the non-running weeks began to mount, my desire to travel to China for the competition diminished. I didn’t want to take time away from university to travel to a meet I no longer felt prepared for and I decided to withdraw myself from the team. I remember feeling a wave of emotions – Disappointment, frustration, anger… but also a little relief – which was unexpected.

I took a long break from training, with no immediate racing goal in mind and hence no urgency to return. My time away from running allowed me to experience a ‘normal’ university life, without the daily commitment that my sport required. The longer I spent away from the running, the less I wanted to return. I was living on campus at Sydney University, most frequently training alone. Over the next few months I tried to motivate myself to return to my prior regime but for the first time I was really longing to experience life with my university colleagues as opposed to my athletic friends. In a last ditch attempt to ignite the flame I left my coach (Dave) and spent some time in Melbourne. I thought perhaps by immersing myself into the running community it would spark my passion again. It actually had the opposite effect – A leading coach clearly explained to me at that time that the only way for me to be successful athletically was to defer my studies, spend half the year overseas training and racing and commit entirely to the sport. While I believed I had more to achieve with my running, I didn’t believe it was the best decision for me to put all my energy into one pursuit at such a young age. With that I walked away from running, believing that I could not achieve athletic success while pursuing other passions and goals in my life.

During this time, you completed your Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney and then a Masters of International Public Health at the University of NSW. How was university life for you?

I moved to Sydney as a 17-year-old to begin my first degree (Bachelor of Pharmacy), living on campus at Women’s college. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been surrounded by so many inspiring and driven women at my residence – lead by none other than Dame Quentin Bryce. I admit I prioritised my social life throughout my years in Sydney which certainly meant I had plenty of stressful cramming sessions during pre-exam study breaks.

My post-graduate experiences were entirely different. I started studying a Masters of International Public Health (UNSW) while living in Adelaide in 2013 and working full-time as a pharmacist. I was highly motivated, specific about my particular areas of interest and I absolutely loved my experience.

You did a lot of travel during this time also. Tell us about some of these experiences?

I registered as a pharmacist as a 21-year-old and immediately started planning travel adventures. I would work up to 75 hours per week for a few months at a time and would then travel. I spent time backpacking and bungee jumping in Europe, sky diving in Hawaii and scuba-diving in South-east Asia. I had long been drawn to the African continent and finally found enough time to begin to explore it in 2010. I spent 3 months travelling through South Africa, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and assisting in an orphanage in western Kenya. My now husband and I spent some time together in Uganda, white water rafting down the Nile river. A few years later we travelled to The Gambia and Senegal in West Africa to assist a beautiful family in a rural village that Chris has been supporting for over a decade.

Travel also came in the form of work for me – I’ve lived around NSW, Canberra, Tasmania, South Australia and rural Victoria during my 8 years since registering as a pharmacist.

During these years did you think about running much or follow the results of others even?

Throughout my absence from the sport I did have brief moments where I considered attempting to return. There were periods of time where I would run up to 50km a week but for the majority of my time away from the sport I did not run. I felt guilty at times for not pursuing something for which I had a talent but at the same time I gained great satisfaction from my work and from the experiences through travel. I don’t remember watching any of the 2008 Olympics and my only memory of the 2012 Olympics was the women’s marathon, when we proudly cheered on our friend Jess Trengove.

In 2013 you started doing some running for fun you said, then remarkable by 2014 you were selected for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Just as amazingly you finished 4th there in the 3000 metre steeplechase. Firstly, how shocking was the rapid progression of your comeback? Secondly, how was the Commonwealth Games experience and how much motivation did this give you?

It was in late 2013 that my coach at the time (Adam Didyk) and I decided to make the Glasgow Commonwealth Games my goal. Despite the message I’d been given as a junior athlete – I continued to work 50 hour weeks in the dispensary and started my post-graduate studies. Adam understood my desires to continue to progress in all aspects of my life and my training load supported this. Our logic was that I had run well under the B standard for the steeplechase in 2006, with only a few attempts over the barriers. I added the 5000m to my repertoire for the first time and also achieved that standard. To make the team was my initial goal – I just wanted a senior Australian tracksuit. Those goals were quickly reset and by the time Glasgow arrived we believed I was within reach of a medal. It turned out that we were right – I finished 4th. I watched that race for the first time only last week and I am in awe of how well I ran in light of my inexperience. Glasgow gave me the reassurance that an Olympic berth was inevitable if I kept my focus. The games were incredible and receiving the tracksuit was more emotional than I could have predicted. I vividly remember my tears of joy and accomplishment when I did finally put on that Australian tracksuit again.

Were we surprised? Of course! Everything I achieved in 2014 and everything since has been above and beyond what I could have reasonably expected. Having said that, I demand a lot from myself and despite my successes in the last few years, I can find plenty of errors, flaws, and opportunities for me to improve.

After this, it is fair to say things went full steam ahead and you made the Olympic team for the 2016 Rio games making the final for both the Steeplechase and the 5km. How was this experience? You were injured during it too; how bad was this?

2016 was a blur and a year of mixed emotions. I tore my calf a week prior to the Olympic trials but managed to win the race and gain automatic selection. In hindsight, I should not have raced on the injury, though our understanding of the selection policy required me to do so. I had to take some time off after nationals and this meant I was playing catchup for much of the year. I arrived in my base in Loughborough, UK in mid-May well below my ideal fitness and I got stuck into a few months of hard work. In July, I ran a 5 second PB in the 1500m (4.06 – an Olympic qualifying time) and the following week lined up in London for my final race pre-Olympics. In the days leading into London I had noticed a dull ache in my foot. During the race, the pain was constant, distracting and upsetting. I withdrew with just over 2 laps remaining and collapsed in a heap of emotions. I remember being so angry at myself for weakening and for not finishing the race. It turned out that I had made the right decision – an MRI in London the next day revealed a stress reaction in my 2nd metatarsal – and I was advised not to run until the Olympics.

I did not exactly follow the medical advice. I remained in Loughborough for another week and spent my time on the elliptical, exploring the East Midlands by bike and following the black line in the pool. And then I ran. My defiance was not fuelled by arrogance but rather by my desire for the opportunity to stand on the start line in Rio with some level of confidence. We were aware of the risks so each step had a purpose and we finally did manage to string together a few great sessions at our holding camp in Florida. I don’t think any of us can quite believe how well the Olympic campaign went. My first race at my first Olympics was understandably nerve-wracking, particularly given my build up. From there I relaxed and enjoyed the process. Looking back I believe my best race was definitely the 5000m heat, followed by my 5000m final. Despite being proud of the result, I can see several flaws in my steeplechase races – I’d love to build on this if I have the opportunity to.

My Olympic experience was a dream. While a successful campaign meant I stayed in the ‘bubble’ much longer than I expected, the opportunity to line up against the world’s best, while my supporters willed me to give my all – was an experience that will be very tough to beat.

athleticsolympicsday14hl7aigaei6dl                    Image by Cameron Spencer via http://www.gettyimages.fi/detail/news-photo/madeline-heiner-hills-of-australia-reacts-after-the-womens-news-photo/592243254.

Right now you are still recovering from this injury I believe. Where you at are with this and what are your plans for this year?

My primary goal for Rio was to produce a run that I was proud of – regardless of the actual finishing result. Surprisingly few people nail their first Olympics and I’m so grateful to feel that I did. I now feel like I have nothing to prove but everything to gain. And I want to do it all again. In 2020 I hope I have the opportunity to line up in Tokyo as a better athlete.

I’ve made several changes since Rio. I am now coached by Rob Denmark (UK), who I met in Loughborough in 2015 and who helped guide my 2016 campaign. Rob has high expectations of me and I’m excited for new challenges. Post Rio, I have also relocated to Melbourne with my husband, started a strength and conditioning program (something I have ignored previously) and am supported by a new medical team. I also finally stepped away from the pharmacy and became a ‘full-time athlete’. My eagerness to throw myself in wholeheartedly was a little overdone and I did end up with an injury late last year. Inflammation in the hip saw me off running for twelve frustratingly long days, my longest time involuntarily away from running. I’m progressing well and excited for 2017.

My plans for this year are quite simple – to progress, to gain experience and to enjoy the process. To have finished 7th and 10th at the Olympics as a part-time athlete gives me great confidence for what the future can hold. I believe the changes I have made will make me a better athlete though of course these improvements won’t be overnight.

Finally, I am very interested in how many days you work as a Pharmacist now you are such a high-level athlete? Is it hard to juggle it all?

I stepped away from my role as a pharmacist in November 2016. As much as I am incredibly proud of the juggle that I did manage over the last few years, I acknowledge it was not ideal for optimum performance. I rarely trained in the evenings due to fatigue from standing all day. Similarly, there were times where I would struggle through a 10 hour workday after a 6am track session.

I will never be just a runner. I’ve spent the last few weeks at Hepatitis Victoria learning from the Health Promotions team and advising on the educational needs for pharmacists. I will continue to work as a locum pharmacist in Melbourne, provided it fits with my training. I don’t want to finish my athletic career and wonder what I could have done if I had committed entirely to my sport. I believe I have just scratched the surface and I can’t wait to really push my limits over the next few years. I showed that it is possible to be an Olympian and have a successful career and that is something I would love to be remembered for.

Lastly some quick fire questions-

Best race? 5000m heat, Rio Olympics. Less than 24 hours after I ran in the 3000m steeplechase final in mid-30 degree heat, I found myself back on the start line. It was a scenario I knew was a possibility but one I hadn’t allowed myself to really entertain. I hadn’t raced a 5000m in over 12 months and I felt a little apprehensive. I was in the first heat of the 5000m, always a slight disappointment as you can’t help but feel you are at the mercy of the races to follow. I remember feeling tired in the warm up, but not remarkably so. I was so incredibly happy on the start line – my only goal was to give every bit of energy I had to the race and to show I earned my spot. We walked the first few laps and the race started to get moving around 3km. I finished the race in 6th place and moved through to the final. To have run so confidently, in light of the recent steeplechase race, as well as the interrupted build up to Rio, is one of my proudest athletic memories.

Toughest race? London diamond league, steeplechase, July 2017 My final race pre-Olympics. A great field assembled. A chance to build momentum after a 4.06PB 1500m in Belgium just days beforehand. But a nagging, sore foot. This race was difficult for me to shake off. I ran a very fast first 2km and was gearing up for the final few laps. But my foot was bothering me in every step, over every barrier and particularly at the water jump. And then I pulled out. The moment I did this was filled with so many emotions – I was in disbelief, I was angry at myself and I was worried about my injury. I wondered if I had imagined the severity of the pain and had weakened mentally. I had the most amazing team in London to help put me together. My husband, Craig Hilliard (AA), Rob, Adam (back in Australia), and my manager were incredible – I moved on from that race to Rio because of them. To have a diagnosis from the MRI the next day was heartbreaking though confirmed that I had actually made the right decision. It allowed me to put to rest the doubts I had about my mental toughness. I think you can learn a lot through adversity and these experiences made my achievements in Rio so much sweeter.

Toughest competitor? Laura Muir, Great Britain. 3.55 for the 1500m and 8.26 for the 3000m. I first raced her in Hengelo, Netherlands in the 3000m. I ran a massive PB (8.44) but had to take 3rd place behind Laura and another athlete. I remember watching her accelerate away from me in awe. She is gutsy, she grits her teeth and she is fearless on the track. Aside from her amazing performances, it is Laura’s humility I most admire.

Favourite memory from athletics? 2016 Olympic Trials/National Championships – 3000m steeplechase I went into this race determined to win and gain automatic selection for Rio. A calf injury had forced me to make the decision to sit out the 5000m and so the steeplechase was my only race that weekend. I was able to enjoy the last lap and jogged down the home straight with an enormous smile stretched across my face. There were 2 people I desperately searched for to share the moment with. My husband, Chris, who has shared every high and low of this journey with me, and my junior coach and life long mentor and friend, Dave Chisholm. To be held by Dave and share the moment together was beautiful and I will always be so grateful for his guidance through my life.

Toughest training session? 6 x 1 mile off 60seconds recovery.

Are we catching the drug cheats? I hope so. In truth, I don’t focus on this too much as it is beyond my control. I was disappointed by the level of testing in Rio. It saddens me to see opportunities taken from clean athletes who deserve their moment in the light. It frustrates me that athletes are allowed to resume competition despite positive tests. I fully support lifetime bans.

Is the future of Australian athletics looking better? And will nitro be the answer to help promote the sport more? I would like to think the future is bright for athletics in Australia. I know we have so many incredible young athletes across several events and I hope their progress continues. I understand the need for innovation and it’s hard to argue the success of Nitro. It would be naive to ignore that Usain Bolt would have drawn just as much attention by competing at a traditional track meet, however perhaps it was the appeal of Nitro that brought him here in the first place. My favourite event was the mixed 4 x 400m relay. It was unpredictable and incredibly exciting. One of my main frustrations with Nitro was the coverage of field events. Despite allowing only 3 events (pole vault, long jump, and javelin) into the program, they still failed to acknowledge the significance of some of the performances. Hamish Peacock threw over 82m in the javelin – a throw big enough for a top-10 place in Rio. I would have loved to see that celebrated.

What do you do to relax? One of my true passions is cooking. I love learning about produce, flavour combinations and mastering new cooking methods. I could happily spend the day in the kitchen cooking up a feast.

 

Please check out our partner https://www.photographers.com.au/sport for amazing sports pictures.

Illya Marchenko (Tennis) Interview

Illya Marchenko is a Ukrainian tennis player, with a career high ranking of 49 in the world in 2016. This big breakthrough was aided by a career-best win over then top 10 player David Ferrer at the Qatar Open. This was also backed up by a career-best grand slam result at the US Open, making it all the way to the 4th round. In this interview, my very 1st guest Illya discusses this career-best result amongst many other things. Hope you all enjoy!!

8762_marchenko

Illya, what are the best and worst aspects of being a professional athlete?

Best is to travel the world. Meet new people, see new places. The thing is one week can change your career. Emotional side of the game. But those are worst ones as well. Because we don’t have that stable life like normal people do. We can get injured and your career is done. We have limited time with our families.

You began playing tennis at the age of 7. What got you into the sport?

My father. As my brother was figure skater (mom’s choice), I became a tennis player (dad’s choice).

At what age did you start to believe you could be a professional tennis player?

Around 10 I guess. My dream was becoming professional, be top 100. At that time it looked so impossible

You turned pro in 2005. How were the first few years grinding on the notoriously tough ITF circuit? Any horror stories from your travels?

Well, I passed it pretty quick. I won my first future at the end of the year with a ranking of 450. After that, I preferred to play qualies of challengers mostly. Nigeria was a trip to remember. We had a police escort to the site equipped with AK47.

mons-2015-marchenko2.jpgWinning the 2015 ATP Mons Challenger in Belgium.

Tennis is known to be a sport were unless you are top 150 in the world it is hard to make money. Were you aided much by your federation or sponsors?

Many good people helped me during my career. Some coaches worked for free or even found money to travel and to practice. At the age of 18, I got a proposition from Viccourt tennis club in Donetsk. And I was fully covered since then.

In 2010 you broke into the top 100. How was this feeling for you?

It was great. I was one of the youngest and had a lot of ambitions. Started to play big tournaments, playing on big stages.

The years to follow your ranking stayed mainly outside the top 100 and even out of the top 200 at one point. Was this tough mentally? Why do you think you could not sustain your top 100 ranking?

I got both knees injured. It was not that easy to make a surgery decision and to recover after that. I still feel pain and am used to play with it right now. It was limiting my preparations as well. Apart from that, I think my game was always there.

In 2015 and 2016 you, however, returned to the top 100 and as high as 49. One big result during this time was at the 2016 US Open where you made it all the way to the last 16. Did this prove to you that you could reach the 2nd week of slams?

That is the biggest achievement so far. After that, I haven’t won many matches and now I’m on the edge to drop out of 100 again. But now I know that I can do it, playing against best on biggest possible stages. It’s not the same when you play challengers centre court or even 250.

157134 During his 2016 US Open run.

Do you feel your best is still ahead of you? You are nearly 30, but this is now considered a good age for tennis. Do you feel like you can continue for many more years?

If my body can handle it, why not. I believe I’m still improving. And I have a lot of things to learn. I still have that passion to compete, and motivation is not an issue.

You were remarkable with your coach Orest Tereschuk from 2009- 2014, which is a long stint these days it seems. What made this relationship work?

I broke the top 100 with him, then I worked one year with Pierre Gauthier and Oret at the same time. After that, I was in Break Point Academy for a couple of years with Burghard Riehemann. I am very thankful to every person who I worked with. Every single coach was trying his best and always did something extra for me. And this extra always made me feel special. Motivated me to work harder and with more discipline. It really amazes me how many good people I met on my way to professional sport. Some of them might think I forgot, but that’s not true. I remember every single person who worked with me.

Your match versus Andy Murray at the Australian Open was great quality and I think you can be top 30 easily based on this and matches I have seen of yours over the years. Do you have a ranking aim or goals in general for this year and beyond?

Right now my goal is to stay top 100. I’m losing a lot of points with not many wins behind my back. After that we can think again about top 50 and to finish the year with that ranking.

Finally the players on the ATP tour generally all seem to get along and have respect for each other compared to other sports. Would you say this is the case or at times not?

I believe it’s true. Of course we are not the best friends with everyone. But we all are in good relationships. Even with younger guys. Sometime on court emotions are overwhelming, but in locker rooms I think it’s not an issue at all.

Lastly some quick fire questions-

  • Best match? Against Ferrer.
  • Toughest match? Davis Cup, against Hanescu from 2 sets down.
  • Toughest competitor? I have a huge respect to Nishikori in this aspect.
  • Favourite memory from tennis? Winning on Arthur Ashe.
  • Toughest training sessions? Early morning ones.
  • Is the future of Ukrainian tennis looking strong? Hard to tell. Girls are on fire right now. And I don’t know many young guys. But maybe some of them don’t have an opportunity to travel, same as me I haven’t played many ITF tournaments.
  • Why did you decide to not play much doubles? Singles is my priority and I want to focus to do my best there. My body is not letting me to do both without losing quality.
  • Finally what do you do to relax? Play Station, Movies, driving.

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