Australia exceeded their own pessimistic medal forecast but some senior athletes had still under-performed, head coach Craig Hilliard said after the World Championships.
Australia finished with two silver medals after soberly predicting that it could be a medal-less championships in Beijing.
“Overall I am happy with our younger brigade. I think the younger athletes really stood up out there,” Hilliard said.
“This is our team, our team for the next Olympics … it’s promising for the next five-year period for athletics and where athletics can go.”
A range of high-profile athletes including discus throwers Benn Harradine and Julian Wruck, sprinter Melissa Breen, injured javelin thrower Kim Mickle, discus thrower Dani Samuels and runners such as Maddy Heiner had not performed as well as their form leading in.
“You saw it out there, there’s athletes who have to step up and do better. We have holes in areas, certainly some of the distance events let us down,” Hilliard said.
“There have been some athletes here who have under-performed – I don’t need to spell them out … I think this was one of the better prepared teams we’ve had but some athletes still slip through the net. We’ve got to get better at them performing here. I don’t care about [what an athlete did] six weeks ago.”
Hilliard said he would have robust discussions with a number of athletes and coaches, including national sprint record holder Breen and her coach Matt Beckenham, after Breen was eliminated in her heat after running a time well below her best.
“You can’t hide out there and certainly coming in, Mel knew she was in trouble. You saw the races and what she’d done coming in domestically and in Japan,” Hilliard said.
“She tried a different preparation with her coach to try to break that run of outs she’s had, you can’t blame her for that, but it clearly didn’t work.
“So they’ve got to go home and have a good look at where she’s run her fastest times and why she’s run her fastest times at that time of the year. Come out with a plan that can bring back that form coming into a major.
“She’s gutted by it, when you know you can run times and you constantly don’t do it here it’s the worst feeling you can have as an athlete.
“It will be a robust conversation as it will with all athletes.”
Hilliard said a range of young athletes, including high jumpers Eleanor Patterson and Brandon Starc, hurdler Michelle Jenneke, long jumper Brooke Stratton and 400m runner Anneliese Rubie, had performed exceptionally well.
He revealed Jenneke injured her hamstring in her semi-final, costing her a chance at a place in the final.
Hilliard was eager to have Patterson and her coach Dave Green, who to date have not accepted funding from the sports commission, come within the fold of Athletics Australia.
“She is one of our key athletes and we want her in the program. It makes sense, why look a gift horse in the mouth? There is a fair chunk of money that will come her way which could only help her prepare and help David travel away overseas with her.
“We need to support them, I will continue to support them and would love to get them involved.”
World and Olympic champion Sally Pearson would return after injury, but expecting her to medal at a third successive Olympics is a big ask. The women’s gold being won in Beijing in the slowest time in a decade, however, will doubtless frustrate and motivate her, Hilliard said.
He said the time had come for Australia to invest time and energy in the next generation of sprinters in a relay team.
“We’ve got some young kids now, and it’s time to move on from the ones who are there, the same old, same old, so let’s give these young kids a chance, get them together and say ‘Go for it, guys. Let’s get some times out there’. I’d love to … put them together in a relay team and give them something to prepare for the Olympics or Comm Games 2018, what an opportunity.”
He said 400m runner Steve Solomon had overcome “a fairly horrific injury” and was now back in Australia training in Canberra after deferring medical studies for a year to concentrate on preparing for Rio.