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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Olympics hinge on the width of a five cent coin

Olympics hinge on the width of a five cent coin

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Missed it by that much, says Breen
By Chris Wilson
Canberra Times
May 5, 2012

Melissa Breen of the ACTAS celebrates
winning the Womens 200 metres during
the Australian Athletics Championships
at Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne last

Icecream. Lot's of icecream.
That's how Canberra sprinter Melissa Breen consoled herself in Japan last weekend when she missed Olympic qualification by 0.002 of a second.

Over the 100-metres, at the pace she was running, it equates to falling short by less than 18mm.

Get a five cent piece out of your wallet, put it on the ground in front of your toe, then look down at it. The diameter of that worthless coin is about the same distance that could ultimately cost Breen a priceless moment in her athletics career.

The 21-year-old must now pick herself up for a final shot at Olympic qualifying in Japan tomorrow, but if she doesn't break the required 11.29 seconds then she will return to Canberra on Tuesday and rely on the discretion of Australian selectors.

"I'm not sure how I come to terms with two-thousandths of a second, I don't know," Breen said from Japan yesterday.

"I understand our sport is about running as quick as you can and two-thousandths of a second can be the difference between a gold and a silver medal or making a final or not. It's all about times ... but being so close on so many occasions, it's just breaking my heart."

Common-sense would dictate that Australian selectors will elect to take Breen to London, given her rapid improvement this season, her consistency, her young age and her potential to be a contender by the Rio Games in 2016. She's our national champ.

But Breen's agonising fight for Olympic selection highlights just how tough these athletes are, mentally as much as physically. Every one of them must sacrifice to succeed, but not every one of them will achieve the success they're aiming for.

Having twice missed Australian swimming teams by one hundreth of a second, including the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Canberra's Ben Treffers finally broke through to win the national 100m backstroke title in 2011.

But, requiring a top-two finish at this year's Olympic trials in March, he touched third, beaten by 0.11 seconds. He'd missed his one shot at the London Olympics by about 20cm — less than the length of his hand.

"I probably can't compare this disappointment to the last ones, this one's quite a bit more because I really felt like I belonged in that [Olympic] team," Treffers, 20, said yesterday.

"I didn't cross my mind that I'd miss it, it's been pretty tough to swallow.

"I'm not even sure how I'm going to be able to watch the London Olympics, that'll be an interesting time for me. Obviously I want to support my mates who are swimming but at the same time it's going to be pretty disappointing not to be there."

Much like Breen, Canberra marathon runner Martin Dent could be at the mercy of Australian Olympic selectors.

Dent set a personal best of 2 hours, 12 minutes, 23 seconds in Japan last December, smashing the international Olympic qualifying mark of 2:15.00.

Problem is, Australia enforces a tougher qualifying mark, so Dent was actually 23 seconds outside the required time. It equates to about half-a-second a kilometre. Over the 42.195 kilometres of the marathon, he'd missed his mark by about 122m.

"You keep thinking 'why couldn't I have been a bit tougher and pushed through those last few kilometres?'," Dent said yesterday, a rhetorical question he's asked himself so many times.

"You go back [in your mind] and wish if only I got that right."

Dent is 33, much older than the other two. He may not get another chance at the Olympics and he's experienced this pain before – twice.

He was one of only two Australian runners who posted an Olympic B-qualifying time before the Sydney 2000 Games in the 3000m steeple, but was overlooked by selectors when he got beat in the Olympic trial.

Dent then set an Olympic A-standard in the steeple before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning the Australian Olympic trial. He was overlooked again, that time because a rival had travelled overseas and posted a faster time late in the season.

"Beijing was probably the most frustrating because I'd supported the domestic season, I ran some good races," Dent said.

Missing out must be devastating. Carrying on, well, that's true resilience. True toughness.

Treffers was yesterday in a swimming camp in Townsville, supporting teammates James Roberts and Alicia Coutts who are both preparing for the Olympics. He's still hurting, but won't give in.

"Maybe this is the right path for me, to miss these Games and I'll be a better athlete for it," Treffers says.

"It seems like there's an inner consciousness that's just telling me to keep swimming, to keep pushing."

Dent is back in his public service job a couple of weeks after running the London Marathon, still training in case he gets the call-up from Olympic selectors in the next fortnight.

Breen runs for her Olympic dream in Japan tomorrow.

These are the kinds of stories you should remember when the London Olympics begin in July.

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