Aust coach mostly bullish about aths team

Two silver-medal efforts, a handful of young stars stepping up on the world stage and up to 10 big names waiting in the wings has athletics head coach Craig Hilliard mostly bullish about Australia’s prospects for next year’s Rio Olympics.


Such is his big-event pedigree, a silver medal to Jared Tallent in the 50km walk at the Beijing world championships was no surprise.

Tallent now has a total of six world and Olympic medals, with the prospect of his 50km silver from the London Olympics being promoted to gold, if and when the authorities move on convicted drug cheat Sergey Kirdyapkin.

Fabrice Lapierre’s silver in the men’s long jump in Beijing was more unexpected.

Linking up with Dan Pfaff has proved to be a master-stroke, with Athletics Australia hopeful the leading US coach can also work his magic on Mitchell Watt, who has been pretty much unsighted since the London Olympics.

“Fab is a peculiar guy, I love him to death but in terms of lifestyle and how he manages it, it works for him but it doesn’t work for anyone else,” Hilliard said.

Teenage high jumper Eleanor Patterson heads generation next.

She was gutted to bow out at 1.92m – four centimetres below her PB – after becoming the youngest Australian to qualify for a world championships final.

“I’m happy that she felt that way,” Hilliard said.

“It shows me it means a lot to her, rather than just coming out and competing, that tells me a lot about her ticker and her mind.”

Walker Dane Bird-Smith, 23, is another up-and-comer who has the potential to turn a top-eight finish in Beijing into an Olympic podium finish, perhaps as soon as Rio.

Personal bests for Brandon Starc (2.31m in the men’s high jump) and Anneliese Rubie (51.69 in the women’s 400m) were other very encouraging performances.

But inevitably there were letdowns.

Kim Mickle went from 2013 world silver medallist to also-ran in the javelin after coming into the event with an injured shoulder which may well require surgery.

Australia’s fastest woman Melissa Breen once again flopped on the world stage with Hilliard and her own coach Matt Beckenham well aware that she needs to make some big changes.

The most-high profile absentee was Sally Pearson, who would have watched on in frustration from back home in Australia as the 100m hurdles was won in the unexceptional time of 12.57 seconds.

After recovering from a broken wrist, Pearson will again headline the team for Rio where she will be chasing a medal at a third successive Olympics.

If the likes of Watt, fellow jumper Henry Frayne, 2012 Olympic 400m finalist Steve Solomon and middle-distance runners Alex Rowe and Zoe Buckman enjoy a change of luck on the injury front the Rio team will bat much deeper and the Australian Olympic Committee’s target of 1-3 track and field medals next year could well be exceeded.

But Hilliard knows there are no guarantees.

“You know the history of us – we sit somewhere between two and four (major championships medals),” he said.

“We want to do better than that.”