First of all how’s college life treating you at Stanford?
I am having the time of my life here at Stanford University. The university is unbelievable. Every facet is beyond anything that I have ever seen before or even heard of. The campus itself is the second largest in the world, and has everything from golf courses to hospitals to even a shopping mall. The university is situated right in the heart of Silicon Valley, home of many of the worlds most influential technology companies such as Google and Facebook. The aesthetics of the university are breathtaking, and combine both renaissance designs with modern architecture. The teaching faculty are not only world leaders in their field of expertise, but also become your friends. In one week last term, I had the privilege of listening to Mark Zuckerberg, Condoleezza Rice and Melinda Gates lecture. But above the exceptional facilities, eye-capturing environment and influential speakers, my favorite part of Stanford University is the student life. With acceptance rates as low as 5.6%, the quality of people at Stanford is to me what makes it such an incredible institution. The prestige of Stanford attracts not only those with gifted minds and talents, but attracts good human beings. The administration process, although at times painstakingly arduous, is there to bring in the best all rounded applicants. Everybody is sociable. Everybody has a strong work ethic and everybody has a desire to make their time at university a time that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
The party life is lively, and not to dissimilar from that we back home are familiar with through watching films such as American Pie and Animal House. The people are awesome, the weather is gorgeous… it is of little surprise why Stanford Alumni Herbert Hoover (31st President of the United States of America) deemed the university as “the most beautiful place on earth”.
What made you chose the path of the US college system instead of going pro?
Three years ago, I knew nothing about the US college system. All I knew about American college was what Hollywood taught me. As my times on the track began to attract the interest of numerous America universities, I began to research what college in America was like. What was the college sport scene like? Which are the best colleges for academia? Which are the best colleges for track and field? What colleges are strong in both disciplines?
It did not take long to discover the answer to the first question. College sport was an entity. A business. Teams had access to more resources then any institution I have ever been apart of. The standard of competition was so high, that to make the NCAA 400m final in 2012, the slowest qualifier ran under the Olympic “A” standard for the event.
As for academia, America is home to some of the worlds most renowned and prestigious universities in the world. Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton. These are worldly recognized names. Thankfully for me, they also had strong track programs.
Stanford has won the Directors Cup, the most notable honor in college athletics (all sport) for the last eighteen years in a row. The Cup represents the best collegiate sports program in the nation. Combine this with its ability to inspire students who go on to become presidents (Hoover), Internet innovationists (Google and Yahoo), Global Brands (Nike) and sporting legends such as Tiger Woods (golf) and John McEnroe (tennis).
In line with the above, American college is known to be a life experience almost un-parallel to any other. If you have followed some of my blogs in the past, you would know of my awareness of life’s tangible and intangible qualities, and their importance to both performance and happiness. For me, Stanford had both.
At the ripe age of 19, I did not feel that I was ready to turn pro. This is more about my maturity as a person, and as an athlete, than it is about my current athletic capabilities. I feel I am still to inexperienced in life to deal with the nomadic travels of a professional track athlete, and all the added unknowns that come with it.
Traveling the world by oneself, negotiating the varying delicacies of each country and dealing with imperfect situation is not easy. I did not feel that I was ready for this challenge yet. The college system breeds these kinds of qualities into its athletes. You travel around America as a team each week. You learn from those above you how best to deal with adverse times and how to make the most of these often imperfect situations –delayed flights, dirty hotel rooms, lost baggage. I have had to deal with all these things before, but with practice I derive confidence. Not that I plan on having my bag sent to another state, or even country other then my destination, having a team behind me provides me with a lot of confidence and will teach me the best ways to deal with halting situations such as these. Also, I am a social person, and still am young enough to cherish the company of friends whilst I compete. I am not ready quite yet to do this on my own. That day will come in time.
Were there any significant changes in your life after your Olympic success?
There were no significant changes. It was really nice to come back from London and see how my performance impacted my family, friends, community and country. It made life very exciting- walking around the shopping center and getting asked for photos and autographs is awesome! I even took a week off and went skiing with my training squad and was recognized on the ski slopes!
Upon my return from London, I was fortunate enough to get invited to numerous events and was able to speak to many people about my journey and hopefully inspired a few kids to follow their goals and set the bar higher then where they might feel ’comfortable’. It is safe to say that London influenced not only my life, but the lives of others greatly.
Did it take a while for the magnitude of your Olympic success to sink in?
It did take a while for my Olympic experience to set in. I did not, and maybe still do not know completely what I did. I think that this is a good thing though. I remember a few days before I departed Australian soil for the USA, I found myself sitting alone on a small beach not to far from my home. The sun was sitting in the middle of the sky, as dusk began to roll in. There was a light breeze blowing and the only sound I could hear was the tiny waves at the shoreline crashing onto the sand. This was the first time where I was able to step back and begin to reflect on my London experience. There was so much to reflect on. My performances. My journey. My family. My friends. It was a beautiful time to recollect, and I left the beach feeling very lucky and very grateful that I was able to have my London experience.
Do you think about Rio 2016 much, or do you have too much on your plate not to be in the moment?
Every single day I think about Rio. Everyday. London sparked something within me and before every session I do, be it on the track or in the pool, I think about Rio… It may be three years away, but it feels really soon. I am excited to start my first full four-year cycle towards an Olympic games. Life is busy… but like I always find room for dessert, I can always spare a moment to dream of the Rio Olympic Games.
Does your coach in Aus, Fira Dvoskina have much input into your training in the US?
Fira does not have a direct influence on my current programs, and my US coaches are the people composing my workouts. However, I have given my coaches my last two years of training diaries, which I have gone over and studied with them. From these, my coaches have learnt what I have done in the past and what specifically works for me. This is where Fira’s influence comes in. I also have learnt from training with Fira what kinds of session are indicative of my current level of fitness, speed and endurance. Although her direct input in terms of the composition of my sessions is limited, the knowledge Fira has instilled within me will remain long into and long after my track career.
Talking of Fira, can you outline the impact she has had on your career?
This is a great question, and to do justice to it, I would need a books worth of words. I plan on writing a blog on Firas influence on my career, which I can guarantee will be a good read in the near future. In short, without Fira, I would not be running. Without Team Fira, my training squad in Sydney, I would not be in the sport. Together, both the team and Fira have molded my development into a world-class athlete. I use molded intentionally. One of Fira’s greatest attributes as a coach is the recognition of talent. Not only physical talent, but mental stamina and confidence. Fira always told me that “talent is within a person; it is rarely ‘created’”. This insight is so simple, yet is the cornerstone of Firas coaching philosophy. What this means is that a coach must not look to create something from nothing, but rather nurture individual’s talents. Since I started track with Fira, I never did more then 3 track sessions per week. My volume was half, sometimes a quarter that of my competitors. Fira’s vision of coaching taught her that an athlete must be at his peak when physiologically he is at his prime. Fira has the insight to identify my strengths, and by developing these towards there full potential, she was able to take me from a 50.3 400m runner to a 44.9 Olympic finalist in three years. Frightening.
What do you miss most about Australia, family and friends aside?
The things that I miss most about Australia are our beaches and laid back lifestyle. Living so close to Bondi beach, it is an anomaly to go weeks on end without feeling the sand between my toes and salt in my hair. I also miss being around mates talking about Australian sport, including AFL, rugby and cricket. Following the action on twitter or even live stream is not quite the same without my mates. Also, my mothers cooking is sorely missed!
Do you find it easy to manage a healthy diet in the US?
I do think that the US does test your discipline when it comes to healthy eating. Thankfully, Stanford dining halls are exceptional. Along with the pizzas and burgers, there are always delicious salads and healthier choices. Fresh fruit and vegetables are always available as well. It is when you go out that you can sometimes find yourself in strife. Telling yourself “enough is enough” is something I struggle with when you are presented with a massive serving of alluring delicacies. I think the key is eating meals regularly, so you do not feel the need to ‘catch up’ later in the day and eat more than you should.