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.
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.
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.
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 😊