‘Blade Runner’ ready to make his mark

Oscar Pistorius thinks his greatest value to South Africa's 4x400-metre relay team will be running in second or third place and the double amputee, nicknamed 'Blade Runner', on Wednesday welcomed a decision by the sport's governing IAAF to allow him to run in any position at the London Games.
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Pistorius, who races wearing carbon fibre prosthetic blades, started the relay off for South Africa at last year's world championships amid concerns about the safety of other athletes during relay changeovers.

Following an IAAF council meeting in London on Tuesday, however, IAAF President Lamine Diack said it was not their place to determine the relay orders.

"If they want him to go from the second leg, he can run the second leg. It is no problem for us," he told reporters.

Diack had said last year at the world championships in South Korea that Pistorius must run first.

"The only thing we said to the South African federation is that if he wants to run in the relay, he must run the first leg to avoid danger to other athletes," he said.

On Wednesday, Pistorius said the safety concerns were overblown and both the IAAF and International Olympic Committee (IOC) were content to let the 25-year-old run in any position.

"I've run so many relays since 2004 and there's never been an incident," he told a packed media conference. "I ran the first leg last year, and the IAAF and IOC are happy with me running any leg.

"I ran in the African Championships a couple of weeks ago on the third leg, and there's never been an incident or any reason for me not to run."

Pistorius said starting the relay off would not be his first choice.

"I think second or third makes sense for me. On starts, with my prosthetic legs, I'm just very slow. On a running start I'll probably be a lot more use or value to the team."


Born without a fibula in both legs, Pistorius fought for the right to line up against able-bodied competition.

Banned from running in able-bodied events by the IAAF in 2007, he appealed successfully to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the decision was revoked in 2008.

Pistorius said he had been rocked by the decision to ban him in the first place.

"We were taken aback because athletes had been using the same leg that I was using since 1996, and of the top Paralympic athletes there was never an athlete to run close to the times I was running in the 400," he said.

"I was thinking if this leg provides such an advantage then how come everybody isn't running the same times?"

Growing up Pistorius played a variety of sports with his older brother Carl.

"My mother used to tell us in the mornings, 'Carl put on your shoes, Oscar you put on your prosthetic legs, and that's the last I want to hear about it,'" he recalled.

"So I grew up not really thinking I had a disability. I grew up thinking I had different shoes."

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Cook’s motley crew has a final surprise in store

They've almost completed mission impossible – and Sarah Cook says it's time to take risks in the pursuit of Australia's most unexpected medal of the Olympic Games.
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The women's eight rowing team will have a chance to prove all of its doubters wrong when it races in the final tonight at 9.30pm (Canberra time).

Just seven months ago Rowing Australia refused to enter the team into Olympic qualification.

But after a protest and defiant rally, the women's eight was finally given the chance it needed.

Now it is on the verge of winning a medal, with Canberra's Cook declaring the "motley crew" of the Olympics has one more surprise left for its competitors.

"It's definitely a relief to get through," Cook told The Canberra Times.

"I feel like we can just do anything from here on in, for us it has just been about achieving the impossible over and over again.

"By no means are we at the bottom of the pile. I feel like we have a real shot, we can take some risks and step it up another gear."

Australia finished third behind the Netherlands and Romania to book its place in the final.

Its time wasn't on medal pace, but Cook insisted the team was ready to burst out of its bubble to cause a major boilover.

The women's eight has been notorious for controversy.

First there was the 'lay-down Sally' incident when Sally Robbins stopped rowing in the final of the event at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

With the London Olympics looming, Rowing Australia decided there wasn't enough talent to fill the boat to compete at Eton Dorney.

Now it's a team of misfits and rejects which has continually defied the odds on its Olympic journey.

"The job isn't done yet . . . we just stayed in our bubble [in the semi-final] and executed our plan . . . the final is about stepping it up a notch, throwing a few surprises and really racing for that medal," Cook said.

"It's really exciting that we've ticked the boxes we've wanted . . . we haven't put it all out on the course yet. We've definitely got another gear to go, we'll put it out there when it matters and see what we get back."

Cook also competed at the Beijing Olympics in the double, but she didn't make the final with partner Kim Crow.

Should the women's eight win a medal, it creates a significant dilemma for Cook.

She revealed last week she had planned to take time away from rowing after the London Olympics before returning for another campaign in Rio in 2016.

Her comeback would have been driven by the desire for an Olympic medal.

"If I do that now . . . if I was to come back it would be to pursue that goal of a medal and if I do it now would I still have that drive," Cook said.

"If I won an Olympic medal now, it would be about thinking what I want to achieve. It's the ideal scenario, but whether I would have the drive [for a comeback] is a question I can't answer until I'm faced with it. I'm just excited because what this squad has done is amazing."

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How a former runner could have plenty to crow about – in rowing

Kim Crow competes in the women's single sculls in London.It's fast becoming one of Australia's feel-good stories from the London Olympics.
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Kim Crow, the one-time aspiring 400-metre hurdler, is closing in on two gold medals – not on the track, but in the Thames as a rower.

The story starts at the Victorian Institute of Sport in 2004, where she was recovering from injury. Working out at the gym, Crow was punching out some minutes on the rowing machine while coaches were working with the institute's rowers.

From just a few minutes on the machines, Crow's ability was recognised and her track career ended, replaced by one in the boat.

Tonight, she will race the semi-final of the single sculls before chasing gold in the double sculls just an hour later.

While her story is unique, it isn't necessarily new. And it's a road well-travelled by many successful Australian athletes.

It's the world of talent identification and talent transfer programs – a concept that started more than 20 years ago at the Australian Institute of Sport, when Professor Alan Hahn created a pilot program to identify young talent and turn them into world-conquering rowers.

Since then talent identification has developed and changed, but the end-goal remains the same: producing elite athletes.

AIS senior talent identification and development specialist Jason Gulbin said talent ID was responsible for a huge amount of success since Hahn's pioneer program.

"You don't always know how people have got into the sport," he said.

"But it's contributed to many thousands of national medals at a senior level, and obviously many, many more medals at a junior level.

"Certainly senior world championships and Olympic medals, too."

But what exactly makes a good athlete? And how do you identify one?

An expert in talent ID for more than 13 years, Gulbin said it's not quite as simple as using a tape measure and some weights.

"I suppose everyone thinks in talent ID you run a tape measure across, and they've got a big armspan, a big height, they've got a big engine . . . but that's the very easy bit – you can pick talent for certain sports just by your eye," he said.

"The real sophistication comes in how you can increase the probability of selection by knowing more about the biopsychosocial elements together.

"Yeah, you have good biology, some good physical attributes – your height, arm span, leg length, your physiology. It's also about the psychological elements. How mentally tough are you? How resilient are you? How dogged and determined are you? Are you coachable?

"All of those qualities are very important.

"And then there is the social element – the quality of the coaching, the quality of the cohort you train with – that you are training in a good-quality group that is pushing you. And then the other social aspect is the network of support you might have."

That's not to say physical requirements mean nothing.

ACT Academy of Sport sports program manager Andrew Stainlay said the academy held try-outs for sports in an effort to identify talent.

"We advertise for kids, and then have a whole battery of tests, invite people in, and from there go through all the stats and data," Stainlay said.

We've got to be smart with talent identification in Australia – we don't have the population base, so we have to be smart with what we've got.

"We've got the know-how from a sports science point of view and we've got quality coaches."

It's a far cry from 1990, when a 16-year-old Queanbeyan girl tried out for Hahn's program.

Megan Marcks (nee Still) teamed up with Kate Slatter, and with victory at Atlanta in 1996 became the first Australian female rowing crew to win gold.

"It's amazing how one day can change your whole life, and that day did exactly that – I mean I wasn't even a water sports kind of person," Marcks said.

"It was only that I heard the words 'Australian Institute of Sport' and thought, that's the place you want to be if you wanted to be successful in sport."

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Canberra coach in stadium lockout

25 April 2012, Sport, Journalist: Lee Gaskin. Canberra Times Photo by Jeffrey Chan. Runners and training buddies (rear from left) Lauren Boden, Brendan Cole and Melissa Breen with Coach Matt Beckenham before training at the AIS Athletics Track. They are about to go to Japan for a pre-Olympic competition. Matt Beckenham with his crew Lauren Boden, Brendan Cole and Melissa Breen.
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Helpless athletics coach Matt Beckenham will drop his stable of athletes at the Olympic Games gates and hope they can "star in the class" in his absence after being denied access to watch their races in London.

In a cruel twist to four years of preparation, Canberra coach Beckenham will watch sprinter Melissa Breen and hurdlers Lauren Boden and Brendan Cole from a big screen rather than the inside of the main stadium when they compete.

It's like parents dropping their kids at the school gates for the first time and watching them disappear into a life-changing experience.

Beckenham is with the Australian team as a "personal coach" for his three athletes and is not one of the main coaches.

It means his accreditation gives him access to most areas, including the warm-up area, but not the Olympic Stadium.

He put off buying tickets not knowing where his accreditation would allow him and he is still exploring every option with officials for a late call-up.

But Beckenham could be forced to hear the roars of the crowd while watching from the warm-up track just a few hundred metres away.

"It would be great to be in there, but they're big kids so they'll be able to look after themselves," Beckenham said.

"There's not much I can do from now, they're in good shape and you've just got to hope they can go into the classroom and can star in the class. I'm just hoping there's a big screen at the warm-up track, it is about the athletes and it's not the end of the world . . . I'm still going to look at every option available."

Beckenham raced at the Sydney Olympics in the 400-metre hurdles and has imparted his knowledge to his talented squad.

Breen will be Australia's first female in 12 years to race the 100m sprint, while Boden and Cole have been strong performers in the 400m hurdles.

Beckenham has been with them on every part of their journey from Canberra unknowns to the biggest stage in the world.

He has been on the emotional wave of tight losses and personal best times, but will have a unique experience if he can't find his way into the Olympic Stadium.

The tight-knit training group works at the Australian Institute of Sport and has been in Europe for the past month finalising preparations.

Athletics Australia officials are working with Beckenham to try to get him into the events, which will begin when Breen and Cole race this Friday.

But Beckenham said they were bound by quota systems and he was unsure if he would be given a chance to be in the venue.

The athletes moved into the Olympic Village on Monday, while Beckenham remains at the Athletics Australia base in Tonbridge – an hour outside London.

He said his trio of athletes was primed for strong performances at their debut Olympic campaigns after impressive lead-up work.

"The hard training is basically done now and it's about the confidence and getting it right," Beckenham said.

"Lauren's training has been great and I'm still optimistic she'll run well.

"Mel is jumping out of her skin after running a PB [two weeks ago] and BJ [Cole] is tracking on exactly the same form line he had domestically, which is fantastic.

"I'm confident when they get on the big stage they'll step up and run well."

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Fears funding row will hit work with homeless

THE national goal of halving homelessness by 2020 is unlikely to be achieved if state and federal governments fail to renew an historic funding agreement that is running out, community leaders say.
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They fear the homeless will be victims of rancorous relations between the federal government and non-Labor states demonstrated in negotiations over the National Disability Insurance Scheme, an issue with much wider community support.

About 180 projects nationally - 80 in NSW - have been funded by the commonwealth and states under the $1.1 billion National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. The agreement, signed by the states, was the centrepiece of the Rudd government's commitment to halve homelessness by 2020.

But the four-year funding agreement runs out on June 30 next year and community leaders have failed to get assurances of an extension. Some organisations have been told by state officials their projects will not be re-funded and plan to close them this year or early next year.

The chief executive officer of Homelessness NSW, Gary Moore, said: ''Unless there's new money the goal of halving homelessness by 2020 has Buckley's. Four years [funding] is not long enough.''

The only possible way the goal might be achieved would be if the Australian Bureau of Statistics changed the definition of homelessness, a process under consideration, he said.

State and federal government concerns over budget deficits and the wrangling over the NDIS have given advocates for the homeless cause for pessimism.

''We are anxious seeing the fraught negotiations over the NDIS that an issue like homelessness without such broad-based support won't be resolved,'' said the chief executive officer of the Northern Rivers Social Development Council, Tony Davies.

The chief executive of Marist Youth Care, Cate Sydes, said a $2 million project to help homeless youth in the Nepean region would be closed at the end of December after state officials informed her the three-year contract would not be extended.

And the Samaritans Foundation, with a $1.8 million grant to provide tenancy support, has been told the service would have to finish by June 2013.

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