He may be a “bench warmer” at the moment but Joel Milburn could not be happier about being selected to go to his second Olympic Games, beginning at the end of July.
The former Faulconbridge resident was nominated by Athletics Australia to join a six-man 4x400m relay squad after defeating his main selection rivals on the Gold Coast just days before the final team announcement was made last week.
Milburn said recent hardships made this moment even more special than his first Australian selection four years ago.
“I’ve worked really hard and I’ve had so many obstacles in my way this season and I’ve just hung on and not given up, and it’s paid off for me,” he said.
Tendinitis in the hamstring meant the 26-year-old had just four opportunities to compete this season and he left it until the last qualification race on the Gold Coast to show selectors he was up to the challenge. While the time was significantly slower than his best, a convincing victory over other Australian hopefuls including Sean Wroe proved enough.
Milburn said the chance to prove himself against almost all of Australia’s best 400m runners at the Gold Coast meet had played to his advantage.
“I perform at my best when the pressure’s on and that’s what I needed. It came down to that one race,” he said.
“I’ve just qualified with minutes to spare, or with days to spare, I just got myself in the last spot. It’s just a relief. You work so hard in these sports and when you don’t get the results you’re after it can be quite disheartening . . . It’s just really really good to get those results.”
Milburn is not exaggerating when he says he claimed the final spot on the team. The Commonwealth Games gold medallist understands he is sixth in the relay squad pecking order, with only the top four to take to the track in London.
“At the moment I’m the bench warmer . . . So by the time the Games come around I want to be in that top four and actually get a run,” said Milburn.
The days following the announcement have been a mad scramble to organise time off work, fill out page after page of paperwork and arrange races in Europe in the lead-up to the Games.
With such limited preparation those races will be vital if Milburn is to approach anything near his peak when the relay heats are run on August 9.
“I’ve only had four races so far [this year] and I’ve improved with every one so if I can get a few more races over in Europe hopefully I’ll get myself into some top form by the time the Games come around,” said Milburn.
Unlike in Beijing, Australia's track and field team will be in the village from the beginning of the London Games and Milburn is relishing the opportunity to be part of the opening ceremony and experience the atmosphere of the event.
“I’m really looking forward to just taking in that Olympic spirit and getting excited for my race,” said Milburn.