AUSTRALIA’S fastest woman will take on the men in the nation’s richest footrace today.
This is more than some battle-of-the-sexes story.
Melissa Breen is working to break new ground for women in sport and prove to herself and her closest supporters what she is capable of achieving.
There are those who will always say women will never physically measure up in an equivalent all-male sporting arena.
But measure up to what?
In the challenge to become the first woman to reach a Stawell Gift semi-final, Breen is pushing herself and must rely entirely on herself as an outmarker.
Stawell’s $60,000 prize pool and the prestige in winning means marks are tight. Breen will race off the 10-metre limit. So too, will 29 men.
Whether they are egotistically driven in a determination to not be beaten “by a girl” is irrelevant.
This is about how well Breen can perform at Central Park.
Breen has the potential to spark the imagination for a whole new generation of young girls about what they might achieve.
The Canberra-based athlete refuses to race on proving naysayers wrong or a frustrating struggle to catch the attention of athletics’ national body.
Athletics Australia officials decided mid-week that Breen would only get $4000 in funding as a Commonwealth category athlete – a third of what she was expected to receive, having twice run faster times than the minimum required to be classed International category.
She was also rejected a development classification for athletes deemed capable of making a major championship final in the next four years.
Breen’s funding will carry her through to Glasgow – this is the first time Breen has made the Australian team’s first-round selections – but she must consistently run close to her national record to prevent that funding from drying up.
“Despite not being where they think I am, it is hard to use that as motivation because it’s quite negative and eventually you’ll struggle with that,” Breen told The Courier.
“I want to go out and prove myself and my supporters right.”
To reach a Stawell Gift semi-final is neither a casual throw-away line from Breen, nor is it something she is attempting just for a bit of fun.
This has been a calculated move, a goal Breen believes she can achieve off her 10-metre mark, since 2011 when she became the fifth female in history to enter the Stawell Gift field.
Breen vowed she would bide her time, train smarter and become stronger, before she gave the Gift another shot.
A year later, Breen became the first athlete to win the women’s gift off scratch and continued to finetune her technique.
Injured last Stawell Gift, Breen says she was heading down the right path and picked up where she left off.
The timing is now right.
Breen stepping back out against the men at Central Park today is sure to ignite a men versus women sporting debate – and that’s OK.
This is about how Breen measures up in pushing the boundaries, reaching new frontiers in women’s sport.
Her aim to offer inspiration comes in how she is going about doing so.