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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Len Johnson thinks Steff needs an 'enemy'

Len Johnson thinks Steff needs an 'enemy'

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1 Len Johnson thinks Steff needs an 'enemy' on Sat Jan 08, 2011 10:18 am



Steffensen: A Column By Len Johnson

posted by rtross
December 25, 2010

You can take most things John Steffensen says with a grain of salt - because usually he backs it up with a sweet performance.

Steffensen’s latest words have left a particularly bitter after-taste, both for him and the sport. A three-month suspension from competition for comments judged to have brought the sport into disrepute, however much apologists dress it up by saying he wouldn’t have been competing anyhow, is not to anyone’s taste.

In case anyone reading this does not know by now, Steffensen’s outbursts over, as he saw it, being forced to run the national championships earlier in the year, and then again on announcing he was “boycotting” the Delhi Commonwealth Games, were ajudged to have bought the sport into disrepute.

A three-month ban from your national body, however you rationalise it, is not a good thing to have on your ‘c.v.’

This followed a mediation process a couple of years earlier after Steffensen publicly assailed one of the national selectors, claiming the selectors were trying to ruin his career by requiring him to run three races in the Australian domestic season.

Most John Steffensen disputes have been like that, Steffensen digging his heels in at being asked to do something he does not want to do. Sometimes he’s been right; sometimes he’s been wrong. Sometimes it’s been impossible to tell, but always it’s been about trying to get John to do something he does not want to do.

Nor are the consequences ever trifling: it’s about ruining John’s career. Yet, somehow, his career continues.

Sometimes I think that Steffensen needs an enemy to rail against. If he doesn’t have someone trying to strew obstacles in his path, obstacles he must overcome to get where he wants, then he’s not happy.

Some sportspeople are never happy, working best when they have real or imaginary demons to fight. The South African golfer Gary Player was one such.

A regular visitor to Australia (he won the Open seven times), Player once shot a 63 to put himself in control of the tournament. You’d reckon he’d be pretty happy, but ‘No’, he told an interviewer, he’d hooked his drives, mucked up a few approach shots, missed some putts. If only he could fix all that up in Sunday’s final round, he might be a chance.

I think that’s one of Steffensen’s traits, too. He wants us all to be throwing our hands up, wondering what on earth ‘Steff’ is doing that for, so he can go out and prove us all wrong.

Take his move after the Athens Olympics to train with John Smith in California. I once listened bemused with a bunch of fellow-journalists as Steffensen told us everyone was questioning why he had gone to train with Smith, but he, John, had stuck to his course and shown his critics up as being wrong, wrong, wrong.

I was never the sort to keep an ear closer to the ground than every other journalistic colleague, but I never heard significant questioning of Steffensen’s call on that one. Nor had any of the journalists listening that day, but we all wrote the story.

That was/is the thing with John. He usually backs his words up with results. I remember listening on another occasion in Brisbane early in 2006, as John explained why he had just lost a 400 to Clinton Hill and why he wouldn’t be running the Melbourne Track Classic as a final lead-in to the Commonwealth Games.

Melbourne, of course, is the biggest track meeting on the Australian calendar, but John was doing it his way, he proclaimed, and he would win the gold medal on the MCG. He did, and he did.

Melbourne, though, remains the high point of John Steffensen’s career. It’s not that he hasn’t run well since – two sub-45 second runs in the heat and semi-final of the Osaka 2007 world championships were not enough to make the final, but were outstanding running – just that he has not been able to hit form at the right time or sustain it when he does.

And all the time, everybody’s been against him. Selectors, selection policy, the critics – it’s a useful psychological ploy when kept in perspective, a dangerous delusion if allowed to run unchecked.

Yet again, John Steffensen has talked himself into a corner. This time, an independent panel has declared it the ‘naughty corner,’ and told John he must sit in it for three months.

Let’s hope he can run his way out of trouble again, because the best of John Steffensen is very good indeed.

Len Johnson is probably right here - Steffenson seems to 'invent' a confrontation to motivate him to run at his best. It's like he needs a cause 'to prove everyone wrong.' I know it's a view shared by respected Sydney Telegraph athletics expert, Mike Hurst.

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