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Athletics Wrap: Athletics team on the rise

26 August 2016

ATHLETICS: It has been a successful campaign for Australia’s 60-strong athletics section at Rio 2016, with the team delivering two medals and a further seven top-eight performances to set the tone for an exhilarating Olympic cycle through to Tokyo 2020.

“It has been an exciting campaign and I am proud of the way in which our athletics team has performed at these Olympic Games,” said Craig Hilliard, the athletics section head coach.

“Obviously, it would have been fantastic to see those two fourths and four ninths become medals and top-eight performances respectively, but to close this event with two medals to Jared Tallent and Dane Bird-Smith is a solid result.

“In 2016, we have had nine top-eight performances, which is an increase from six from five athletes at London 2012 and five in total at last year’s IAAF World Championships.

“Further to this, we have had 28 athletes place in the top-16, compared to the 16 we delivered four years ago.

“This is a great result considering that athletics is a truly global sport. More than 2000 athletes from 207 nations have competed in track and field at these Games.

“Our team leaders of Jared, Kim (Mickle), Alana (Boyd), Lauren (Wells) and Chris (Erickson) have worked hard with the whole team to ensure a positive environment.

“Even if we were leaving with no medals, I would be proud of the way the team has come together and been competitive as a unit in what is an individual sport.”

Athletics section team captain Jared Tallent echoed this sentiment of enthusiasm.

“I couldn’t be prouder about what this team has achieved in Rio,” Tallent said.

“We knew at the start of the Games that we were a squad with plenty of fresh faces competing at their first Olympics, or even their first major championship, and together we have performed for the green and gold.

“There is work to be done, there always is, but the 60 competing can head home with their heads held high as we prepare for the IAAF World Championships in London next year, Gold Coast 2018 the year after that and, of course, Tokyo in 2020.”

In promising signs for the future, nine athletes under the age of 25 achieved results in the top-16, with these to be at their peak at the next Olympic Games, while more than two-thirds improved their world ranking.

“Dane Bird-Smith, Damien Birkinhead, Cedric Dubler, Regan Lamble, Kurtis Marschall, Ella Nelson, Brandon Starc, Brooke Stratton and the women’s 4x400m relay team (with an average age of 22) have all performed strongly. It is these athletes that will set the tone for Tokyo 2020 and there is much to be excited about,” Hilliard added.

“Only four athletes achieved a similar result at London 2012 and with this team boasting 39 debutants we are confident that we can build on what we have started for a strong campaign.

“More importantly, 41 athletes delivered a performance beyond their international ranking at the commencement of competition.

“We have stepped up when it counted and that’s all I can ask for as head coach. The athletes looked like they belonged out there.”

Australia’s athletics section delivered two medals at these Olympic Games, with Jared Tallent winning silver in the men’s 50km walk and Dane Bird-Smith winning bronze in the men’s 20km walk.

Tallent’s medal made him the most successful Australian male track and field athlete in Olympic history, with his trophy cabinet boasting one gold, two silver and a bronze medal from Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016.

Bird-Smith’s success was on Olympic debut, improving on his top-10 finish at the IAAF World Championships last year and his fourth place at the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships in May.

Cody Lynch

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