Olympics-Tallent goes walkabout in search of double gold
SYDNEY, July 11
SYDNEY, July 11 (Reuters) - Australian Jared Tallent is likely to be heartily sick of the sight of Buckingham Palace by the time he completes his bid for double race-walking gold at the London Olympics.
No athlete will go further on their own two feet at the London Games than the 27-year-old, who over two races will complete 35 laps of the two-kilometre race-walking course which runs in front of the London home of Britain's royal family.
Tallent won bronze in the 20km walk and silver at the 50km distance in Beijing, the first Australian to win two athletics medals in the same Games since 1972, and has again entered both races in the hope of winning his country's first gold.
"I guess that's one thing we haven't got, you had (pole vaulter) Steve Hooker won that gold medal in Beijing and got a lot out of that, and we haven't had that gold medal yet in the walk," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"Hopefully this will be the year, that's definitely what I'm aiming for."
Conceding that his discipline lacks the glamour of others in athletics, Tallent hopes a gold medal might raise the profile of race-walking in his sports mad country.
"It's very different in other countries, like Mexico, where they get huge support and it's pretty much any other track and field event," he said.
"It's a little bit frustrating that it's not the same as over there, we've always had great success in the event. We're the most successful athletics event over the last eight years."
That success means Tallent is the focus of high expectations back home, and it is a burden he is happy to carry.
"I don't mind the pressure, that's what I want to do this year," he said. "It's good to have the pressure, it makes you focus on what you have to do."
The Olympics will be very much a family affair this year as his wife Claire has also qualified to race in the women's 20km.
The couple married four years ago in the Adelaide suburb of Walkerville, a coincidence completely lost on them until they sent out the invitations, but have spent quite a bit of time apart this year.
"We're very supportive of each other but this year we've made some changes," Tallent said.
"Claire has always done what I've wanted to do but that hasn't worked so well for her and she hasn't done as well in major championships.
"It's going to be very different not being together this year but I guess it's more important to get the result on the day."
Tallent grew up in a country town in Victoria, where he lost a finger in a potato grader on the family farm at the age of two.
After dabbling in long distance running and triathlon, he took up walking seriously after entering a regional race to miss a day of school and finishing runner up by a couple of seconds.
"It just went on from there, it clicked suddenly and the technique just seemed to come pretty naturally to me," he recalled.
Technique is all important in race-walking with athletes facing disqualification if the toes of the back foot leave the ground before the heel of the front foot has touched down.
Three "loss of contact" or other violations and the judges show the dreaded red paddle. Tallent's compatriot Jane Saville suffered that heartbreak just 150 metres from the finish line in the women's 20km at the Sydney Olympics.
"It is something you think about, it would be an absolute nightmare if it did happen. It's something that's always at the back of your mind," Tallent conceded.
"In 2007 I was disqualified at the world championships when I was running fifth. You're always more focused on your techniques going into the bigger events, because they are more important.
"You don't train for four years for that to happen."
With his glasses, whippet-thin physique, and ambition to make a career in banking, Tallent is an unlikely tough guy in a country where sporting heroes have often revelled in that role.
The decision to double up in gruelling races that are just seven days apart should not be underestimated, however, and it was not one reached lightly.
"It's a difficult one, and I've thought about it a lot this year," he said.
"I think I've probably got a better chance of winning a medal in the 50k. In the 20k, Valeriy Borchin, he's like the Usain Bolt, the unbackable favourite, but I'm taking my chances and there's still the silver if I can't beat him.
"It's probably the last time I'll double up but I want to give it a go and a medal in both would be pretty great.
"And the possibility of winning both, well Robert Korzeniowski did it in Sydney and to match that feat would be pretty special.
"It's true Aussie grit, I guess," he added, laughing. "I like a challenge and two medals is better than one." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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