Clarke sizzles to Olympic qualifier

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Sydney University Athletics Club sprinter Josh Clarke broke the Olympic 100m qualifying barrier with a blistering run at the ACT Championships on Saturday night.

The 20-year-old economics student ran the fastest 100m by an Australian in eight years when he posted a time of 10.15sec to beat the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games qualifying time of 10.16sec and become the fifth fastest Australian 100m runner in history.

When Clarke won the 2015 Australian 100m title in Brisbane in 10.16sec last March, his coach, 81-year-old Nancy Atterton, a 1954 Empire (Commonwealth) Games 4X100m gold medallist, said her protégé was only going to get faster over the next nine months. “He’s still developing. If he qualifies for Rio that will be a bonus,” she said. She was on the money.

His run on Saturday will make him the first Australian male sprinter to compete at an Olympic Games in 12 years, when John Ross competed at the Athens Games.

It came about after Athletics ACT moved the race from the front straight to the back straight, where the finalists had the advantage of a race legal 0.8 tailwind.

“It was integral in what happened and I’m really grateful for the people who made it happen,” Clarke said of Athletics ACT decision.

“A few locals like (Canberra coach) Matt Beckenham saw the (weather) forecast and lobbied to change it, and got some people from Athletics North Queensland to help with cameras.

“The clock was on the front straight. After the race I started to walk back and there were a few people at the computers cheering, so I knew I might have done it.”

The win was also justification of the decision he made with his coach after winning the Australian title last year. The time was 0.3sec outside the qualifying time for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, but they decided to put in a solid winter of training rather than try to qualify for the championships in a stronger field overseas.

Clarke dedicated himself to training under Atterton sharp eye through the winter to emerge stronger and faster for the Olympic year.

He said it was tough decision at the time for a 19-year-old. “But I’m still relatively young in the sport and I’m willing to sacrifice short-term gain for the long term,’’ he said. “That’s my mentality. If you want to be competing with the best in the world in a few years, you have to get to another level.

“It enabled me to get a lot of work done. I’m a lot bigger and stronger. The top sprinters in the world are pretty big men, so I’ve got to be able to compete with them.’’

“Josh is a tremendous talent,’’ Atterton told Grantlee Kieza of The Courier Mail. And she should know, having competed in the golden age of Australian female sprinters in Marjorie Jackson, Betty Cuthbert, Marlene Mathews, Shirley Strickland and Norma Croker.

“I’ve coached Josh since he was at The King’s School in Sydney and I’ve watched him develop through a lot of hard work,” she said, adding Rio was just the first goal for Clarke. “We don’t feel he’ll be at his best until the 2020 Games in Tokyo.”