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PROTRACK » GENERAL » AA & Little A's look to capitalise on Pearson's success

AA & Little A's look to capitalise on Pearson's success

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http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-04/aa-aiming-to-27showcase27-pearson/4296146?section=sport

AA aiming to 'showcase' Pearson

By Luke Pentony
abc.net.au
Posted Thu Oct 4, 2012 5:27pm AEST



Photo: Golden girl ... Sally Pearson poses for the cameras in London (Reuters: Eddie Keogh)

Key stakeholders in Australian track and field admit it will be a missed opportunity if the sport does not capitalise on the heightened interest created by Sally Pearson's Olympic triumph.

Track and field always enjoys a spike in participation rates and public awareness following a major championship, especially the Olympics, and this is expected to be even more so following Pearson's win in the 100 metres hurdles in London.

Little Athletics ranks have been projected to rise by as much as 20 per cent, while Athletics Australia (AA) is banking on greater crowds attending its National Athletics Series (NAS) meets over summer.

It is also hoping to build on encouraging television ratings following last domestic season's broadcast packages aired on Channel Nine.

AA competitions manager Andrew Matthews says Pearson's high profile and popularity needs to be harnessed so track and field can make a larger imprint amid the congested Australian sporting market.

"Obviously one of the things we are working hard on now is how we best showcase Sally," he told Grandstand.

'Her performance was the highlight of the track and field program [in London] and perhaps she was also the golden girl of the whole Olympic Games.

"So that is one of the challenges, certainly for us, to showcase and enhance our product both in stadium and on TV."

A rise in participation numbers generated by Pearson's Olympic win will most likely to be reflected in Little Athletics, which is the grassroots level of track and field in Australia.

Pearson is a graduate of Little Athletics and it was from this immensely popular program that she began training under current coach Sharon Hannan.

Little Athletics Australia president Ross Burridge says his organisation needs to take advantage of this fact if it is to grow its numbers, which sit at just under 100,000 registered athletes.

"Sally is a great ambassador for Little Athletics, being an ex-little athlete herself and her performance [in London] will inspire a lot of young athletes to continue or join up with Little Athletics in the first place," he said.

Burridge points out that Pearson's partnership with Hannan, beginning in 1999, is an example not just to young athletes but also aspiring coaches.

Attracting coaches to track and field has proven to be a difficult task with the sport largely relying on volunteers who do not get paid for their services.

"The nice thing is she has taken a coach from Little Athletics all the way through to her Olympic gold medal," Burridge said.

"I think it shows that if you start early enough and you've got the right dedication and the right assistance from the coach you can make it."

Need for competition

The eight-meet NAS kicks off with the Zatopek:10 in Melbourne on December 8 but Pearson will not make her season debut until the new year, most likely at the Adelaide Track Classic (February 16) or the Sydney Track Classic (March 9).

She has been outstanding in her support of the domestic scene in recent seasons, despite the fact competing so early in the year is not necessarily conducive with her overseas campaigns, which normally begins in June.

But the lack of genuine competition in Australia in the hurdles and the sprints is a challenge facing not only Pearson but AA, which is trying to attract crowds.

Matthews says work is already underway to entice world-class athletes from overseas to compete against Pearson in Australia.

"Obviously each year we work very hard in getting some of the world's best stars out certainly to complement our Australian athletes," he said.

"Certainly one of the big things for us is finding someone to compete against Sally throughout the series in at least some of the events."

The NAS will also consist of meets in Perth, Brisbane, Hobart and Newcastle and it will conclude on April 6 with the Melbourne Track Classic, which belongs to the IAAF's prestigious second-tier World Challenge circuit.

This will be held a week before Sydney hosts the national titles, which will double as the world championships selection trials.

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