Home » At our national champs, Australia’s greatest athletes have 3.6 million more reasons to strive for Olympic glory

At our national champs, Australia’s greatest athletes have 3.6 million more reasons to strive for Olympic glory

For Australia’s elite athletes, the timing could not have been better.

On the eve of the Australian Athletics Championships in Adelaide — the biggest national event on the calendar and a key milestone on the road to Paris — World Athletics announced a $3.6 million prize pool to be shared among gold medallists at this year’s Olympic Games.

It is a groundbreaking move, with athletics becoming the first Olympic sport to offer direct financial incentive for athletes at a sporting event that retains its amateur status.

Though the motives behind the move by World Athletics — and its chief executive Sebastian Coe — will be debated in the halls of the IOC, on the grounds in Adelaide you would be hard pressed to find anybody complaining.

In fact, for many of Australia’s strongest medal hopes, it’s a decision that has been a long time coming.

Shortly after breaking the championship record with his first and only throw of the day, Australia’s leading discus athlete Matt Denny said World Athletics deserved credit for their progressive stance.

“I’m super stoked. I’m really proud to say that athletics is leading the way in that sense,” Denny said.

“People are going ‘$50k for four years’ work isn’t much,’ but [World Athletics] are ahead of the game, they’re joining modern society.

“The Olympics isn’t an amateur event anymore, so to pay these athletes what they rightly deserve and to be the first ones to do that is pretty amazing.

“Hopefully other sports join in, and maybe the IOC will listen to that and join in too.”

World pole vault champion Nina Kennedy also had a gentle introduction to her national championships, jumping once to secure her progression to Saturday’s final.

Kennedy was aligned with Denny in her belief the athletes deserve to share in the spoils of the Olympic Games.

“That was really cool. And they’re right — the Olympics and World Athletics benefit so greatly from that, so I think the rewards really do need to come back to the athletes.”

Oliver Hoare was in support of offering prize money to Olympic gold medallists.(Getty Images: Sarah Reed)

For most of Australia’s Olympic athletes, making a living from their craft is extremely difficult. Money tends to come from sponsorship deals and grants from governing bodies.

The AOC has a program that rewards athletes for Olympic medals, however, they are contingent on the athlete continuing to prepare for the next Olympics, and is a one-off payment for their best result — so an athlete that wins multiple medals still only receives one payment.

It’s a problem 1,500m runner Olie Hoare is acutely aware of, and while his focus for now remains solely on qualification for the Olympic team, he is also able to cast an eye to a future generation he hopes this World Athletics plan will benefit.

“It’s interesting that World Athletics is doing that because the Olympics does not benefit them. It actually hinders them, if anything,” Hoare said.

“My experience with track and field and swimming is they are sports that don’t make a lot of money, but get a lot of attention and hype during an Olympic year.

“But the Olympics is an amateur competition, and you don’t really get any money unless there’s a contract or you get endorsements later on.

“With the multi-millions that go through sponsors with the Olympics, you would hope that some of that money would go towards grants for athletes that need it, particularly certain events where a lot of them are working three jobs and just trying to prolong their athletic careers.

“It is great to see that World Athletics are actually starting to get a bit of skin in the game.

“There are cool things happening with the sport. I just hope it continues and hope it helps younger athletes and generations below me grow and get more attention.”

Jessica Hull smiles after a race

Jessica Hull won her 1,500m heat comfortably on Thursday.(Getty Images: Sarah Reed)

The opening day of the Championships in Adelaide highlighted Australia’s growing depth in the middle distance field, with Olympic positions in both the men’s and women’s 1,500m set to be hotly contested.

Hoare was the fastest qualifier in the men’s heats, but Saturday’s final will see him go head to head with Stewart McSweeney and rising star Cameron Myers for the national championship.

Jessica Hull and Linden Hall dominated the women’s 1,500m heats as expected, setting up a final showdown between the 2021 Olympians.

A small number of athletes will be named in the Olympic team at the conclusion of the national champs on Sunday, with qualification still very much alive for the majority of spots as the competition continues overseas in the lead up to Paris.