Alexandra Hulley, Jessica Thornton, Nick Hough, Sam Geddes and Nick Andrews, some of Australia's leading athletes set to compete at the Youth Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
Green and gold will certainly be on display in the Chinese city of Nanjing at the second edition of the Youth Olympics Games, with the athletics programme held between 20-26 August.
Australia will be represented in the track and field events by an impressive 20 team members. Among those hoping to compliment the gold on their uniforms with a gold-medal performance are two natives of New South Wales, hammer thrower Alexandra Hulley and hurdler Nicholas Andrews.
Last year, Hulley won the hammer at the 2013 Australian Youth Olympic Festival with a record throw of 62.04m. The effort secured her a spot on the team for the 2013 IAAF World Youth Championships where she placed ninth.
The 17-year-old’s progression in the hammer has been truly impressive. Her relationship with the discipline began in year seven, when a teacher at her school athletics carnival suggested she’d be good at it.
After just three months of serious training, she was already winning medals.
“'I didn’t really know what hammer throw was before I got asked to do it,” said Hulley.
“So when I became good really quickly, I didn't know, I just thought that's what everyone does. Now, when it's on a world scale, I see how I've improved.”
That improvement has continued at a dizzying pace in 2014. Hulley pushed her official personal best with the 3kg hammer to 68.75m in March, a throw that ranks behind only Hungary's Zsofia Bacskay on this year's world youth list.
The best may be yet to come in Nanjing. On 2 August, Hulley tweeted: “Massive PB 70.26m!” She followed that up the next day with: “Having the best lead up I could have into the Youth Olympic Games!”
The hammer thrower professes a preference for larger meetings, where she isn't automatically saddled with the pressure of being the favourite. That dovetails nicely with the Youth Olympic Games, an experience Hulley is obviously eagerly anticipating.
“It is exciting to be in a team environment and live together, but it is also important to focus on performing well and not get too caught up in the excitement and atmosphere,” said Hulley. “The big differences will be: the event is overseas, overcoming the cultural differences, the size of the crowd and the number of competitors in my event.”
Andrews hoping to follow in footsteps of mentor
Andrews figures to be one of the top competitors in his event, the 110m hurdles, thanks to a strong summer leading up to the Youth Olympic Games. The 17-year-old who is targeting a place on the 2020 senior Olympic squad set his personal best at 13.45 in May. He followed up that performance by winning the 2014 Down Under Championships on the Gold Coast of Australia in July.
Andrews' time of 13.96 broke a decade-old meet record. The win added to his list of career accomplishments that includes this year's New South Wales regional and Australian junior national championships. The Down Under Championships was a banner event for the hurdlers, as training partner and Youth Olympic Games teammate Rachel Pace clocked a 13.65 in a preliminary run in the 100m hurdles, besting the previous record of 14.09 set by Olympic champion Sally Pearson in 2002.
“Coming out of the blocks I felt really good because it was a thousand times better than my start in the heats,” said Andrews.
“In the final part of my race I was focused on not backing off, so I pumped my arms harder to keep my pace up.”
Andrews knows that pace will have to remain high if is to reach his goals at the Youth Olympic Games.
“I was really happy with my time, I am where I need to be in the months before the Youth Olympics,” said Andrews.
“My training so far has paid off and I have worked on my main weaknesses, meaning that I can now focus on smaller technical faults in my race.”
Andrews will be able to rely on a voice of experience in improving those little things in his race because he has been working with countryman Nicholas Hough, the gold medallist in the event at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games held in Singapore in 2010.
Hough brought home one of five medals earned by the Australian athletics team and the only gold. Two years later, Hough came away with a silver medal from the IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona.
“Having Nick Hough is a great person to look upon; we've been in the exact same steps, so I know exactly what I have to be doing,” said Andrews. “I've just seen what he's done, so I can mirror image and do the exact same thing.”
While a repeat performance in the 110m hurdles at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing would be a great result for Australia and Andrews, this year's entry in the Youth Olympic Games is also looking forward to experiences off the track.
“This is my first overseas meeting, and what I’m looking forward to most is just seeing hurdlers from around the world who share my passion,” said Andrews. “It will feel good just to know where I sort of am in the world.”
Will Seymour for the IAAF