I presume you’ve heard the story of Jack Hale.
You may not know the name, but I’m guessing you’ve heard about the 16-year-old Tasmanian who rocked up to his school carnival and ran like the wind. 10.44 seconds to set a new Tasmanian record – that’s an open record, the fastest Tasmanian of any age. Ever.
If you haven’t seen his runs, you can check them out here, both his 100m effort and then his sensational relay run, where he flies home to get the win. It looks spectacular, but remember the old saying draft horses flash past trees. So looks are sometimes deceiving, but still, Jack is fast.
Anyway, this piece is not a rehash on Jack, his background, his, run and his old wily coach who uses old-school methods to get his boy to run fast.
What took my fancy about Jack Hale’s story is the media coverage it generated for athletics – in this case stemming from a mobile phone and some social media by hard core athletics aficionados in attendance in Hobart.
Even during the footy finals the Jack Hale story had legs, and it’s had a run around on more than one occasion.
It helps that Jack Hale is a headline writers dream with a name that rivals the ultimate speedster Usain Bolt when it comes to snappy titles.
Jack be nimble – and quick
Hale the new sprint King
Ok, enough of that, but it also helps that running fast is also easily understood. Australia’s fastest kid is digestible for even passing sports fans. But it does shows that there’s life in the media potential for Australian athletics.
The other side to the Jack Hale story that interests me is a question that AFL legend Kevin Bartlett put to me during our weekly radio segment on Melbourne’s SEN 1116. The question was: what should Athletics Australia do with Jack Hale?
It is a good question.
My answer was – not much… for now.
Jack Hale is 16. He’s a schoolboy. So he and his coach need encouragement and moral support.
He doesn’t need a posse of experts telling him to change technique, change coach, move to Melbourne, wear these shoes, run with your mouth open like Betty Cuthbert, etc, etc.
Of course some funding to attend a camp here and there would be helpful, but otherwise, for now, let him run like the wind and improve his long jumping, which is where he may have more eventual success.
Small steps to help give Australia’s fastest kid the chance to turn into Australia’s fastest ever… and that is unlikely to happen next year. Or in the next three years. So it’s important to keep him going in the right direction.
This is where Australia’s ‘Winning Edge’ has a problem. Jack Hale won’t be winning any medals for Australia in Rio. But he might in Tokyo by which time Jack will be 22, but even then it’s a stretch to see that happening.
This week the AIS relaunched the direct athlete support scheme. Previously called DAS, it has been cleverly renamed dAIS and aims to provide some financial assistance to those who can contribute to the ‘Winning Edge’ objectives – i.e. Olympic medals.
In the grand scheme of average AFL salaries of $265,000, the $35,000 per year on offer to Australia’s best Olympians is tempered further by means testing of $60,000 in after tax income. Meaning for stars like Sally Pearson or James Magnusson, they are unlikely to see any dollars.
Whether a young athlete like Jack Hale can qualify for up to $12,000 per year is up to Athletics Australia to decide, but it’s unlikely to compete with a potential AFL rookie salary offer of around $50,000 per year should the recruiters come sniffing at the front door.
So Australia’s Olympic sports need to work on the non-financial benefits to keep talented kids like Jack Hale in the game and help the transition from junior to senior.
Every sport does it differently and no doubt some sports do it better than others, but it’s where programs like the Sport Australia Hall of Fame scholarship and mentoring program can help.
Albeit for just five youngsters around Australia each year, the program matches up a young talented athlete with a member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and also provides an international airfare and a $5,000 expenses grant. The airfare and cash will clearly help all of them, but for young Perth boxer Caitlin Parker to have access to Adam Gilchrist and for indigenous gymnast Paige James to learn firsthand from Cathy Freeman is money can’t buy mentoring.
Hopefully Jack Hale will be on the list next year.
And wouldn’t it be super if some benevolent benefactors tipped into make this program available to 100 young Australian athletes each year rather than the five Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s meagre funds can sustain.
Now that would help give Australia a winning edge.