"From The Press Box": teamwork gets results at Commonwealth Games

SALLY Pearson’s heat run was stunning.

From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

At every major international meet – Olympics, world championship, Commonwealth Games – she never fails to disappoint.

The coaching furore surrounding her this week has marred the Australian athletics program in Glasgow.

Instead of enjoying Pearson’s heat run and the build-up to her gold medal defence, every mention of Pearson comes with a running expert commentary on the written spray Athletics Australia coach Eric Hollingsworth made against her.

He did so primarily to criticise the team captain for not attending pre-Games camp.

He has since been suspended.

This was the ugly side of coaching.

All coaches must adapt to manage a variety of personalities, often with acute stress in major competition, and should be vying to get the best out of their charges.

We might hear coaches unleash the odd spray, like in a football huddle – sometimes directed to fire up a player – but it is never justified when it specifically targets and belittles an athlete.

Hollingsworth’s com-

ments were made against Athletics Australia instruction on the eve of Pearson’s heat over an issue that should either have been addressed much earlier or much later.

And he was critical of Pearson for not promoting team unity? Way to rattle the ranks, coach.

Hollingsworth has tainted the rest of the Games for fans.

Even if she doesn’t always achieve golden results, fans know Pearson has given her all and that is what draws people out of their beds in the wee hours of the morning to watch her race.

That is why she has won Olympic, world, Commonwealth and world indoor championships.

Now, spurred on by Games commentary, fans can hardly help but speculate on the lasting impact Hollingsworth has made.

Acute focus is a key feature of elite athletes – it is this intensity which drives them to such high sporting levels.

Pearson says she has tuned out Hollingsworth and the explosion about his comments. Other Australian athletes should too – they have a job to do.

Pearson was emphatic and ecstatic with her 110-metre hurdles heat, clocking her fastest time in six months and the quickest she has run since battling a hamstring injury.

She said a key part of this was the lead-in race she completed in London, missing the team camp deadline.

Pearson’s heat run is the sort of race that boosts team spirit and inspire.

When word of Australian marathon runner Michael Shelley’s golden win filtered back along the course to young South Australian Jess Trengrove on Sunday, she dug deeper, pusher herself harder and won the women’s marathon bronze.

Their efforts launched the Australian athletics campaign in Glasgow with an added spark.

Pearson’s heat should have been the race that kept the team firing at the end.

It was a stark contrast at the pool where Australian team members, including officials, kept driving success to claim the nation’s greatest ever Games medal haul in swimming.

Their glory stemmed from a restructure and culture rebuild after a lacklustre effort in the London Olympics two years ago.

It started at the top.

Whether Pearson was right or wrong in skipping a pre-Games camp for a race to best fit her preparations, and even if team camaraderie between athletes is reported to be fantastic, it all starts at the top.

Australia’s track and field results have been sufficient. Could they be better? Of course.

Each athlete has their own individual coach and support team but overall success and culture to be the best must come from the governing body and figures like Hollingsworth.

A head coach and athlete might not always agree but there should be some give-and-take, especially for experienced, proven professionals.

Pearson and her leadership deputies, including Ballarat’s Collis Birmingham – who leads the distance running contingent – work on the frontlines.

To do so effectively, they must also have the chance to work in conditions which allow them to be at their best.

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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