A trio of Blue Mountains teenagers is making their mark in junior athletics after qualifying for the Australian Junior Championships in Perth next month.
Paul Loader, 15, of East Blaxland is leading the charge after winning gold in the U18 2000m steeple chase at the NSW Athletics Junior and Youth Championships this month.
The Blaxland High School student produced a breakthrough performance at Sydney Olympic Park to win his first individual state medal, crediting a strong mental attitude for his success.
“I just came into it with a positive state of mind and was really happy with the result,” he said.
A canny race plan that went against his natural instincts to be a frontrunner also paid dividends.
“Often in the past I would lead the pack but die out at the end and get caught, so I decided just to sit back with the pack for a while [this time],” said Loader.
Glenbrook’s Michael Elliott, 17, claimed his nationals berth after winning silver in the U20 5000m and bronze in the U20 3000m steeple chase at the state championships.
His steeple chase medal was particularly sweet after he fell to second-last place at one point before staging a dramatic comeback.
“It [steeple chase] is a lot more taxing than just a flat race so you’ve really got to have the guts and determination to do it. I think it just suits my style a lot more than the flat races,” said the Penrith High School student.
Racing against athletes up to three years older than him, 15-year-old Daniel Francken came sixth in the U18 1500m at the state championships but was second for his individual age.
The Medlow Bath runner was named Blue Mountains Sportsperson of the Year on Australia Day and hopes to win a medal at the national championships in Perth where the 3000m will be his favoured event.
Elliott would also like to win a medal at the nationals from March 12-17 — “but I’m not sure how realistic that’s going to be” — while Loader is unable to make the trip to Perth.
All three athletes credit the laidback approach of their coach Earl O’Brien for much of their success. Training once a week with leading Australian ultra runner, Brendan Davies of Woodford, doesn’t hurt either.
And while their athletics and school commitments don’t leave much time for a social life — or even a part-time job — the trio wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve only got 12 dollars in my bank account at the moment. It makes things a bit tough,” laughed Elliott.
“It’s worth it though — every time you run a PB or place in a race you know why you do it.”