Australian distance runner Craig Mottram opened his 2007 racing campaign with a stunning win over 3000m at the Boston Indoor Games in the US on Saturday night.
The 26-year-old dismantled a quality field to smash his own Australian indoor record by nine seconds, waving to fans in the back straight on the last lap.
While our daily papers and TV news bulletins fawn over our latest first round loser, hamstrung footballer or Sunday’s tough one-day encounter with New Zealand, one of Australia’s best sportsmen struggles to attract the attention his performances deserve.
In the global world of athletics, Craig “Buster” Mottram is rapidly becoming headline news. In Australia he remains “news in brief”.
In 2005 in Helsinki, whilst covering the event for SBS TV, I was asked each day on the tram to the stadium about “Buster”. The Scandinavians adore him, as do the Poms (he has a British passport so they still hope he’ll change sides) and he is developing a growing fan base in America.
After he beat the “Emperor of Ethiopia”, world and Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele, over 3000m at the world cup in Athens last year, the world’s best athletes rose for a standing ovation as he boarded the bus back to the meet hotel.
Of course, he hasn’t won an Olympic or world championships gold and while most other Commonwealth Games sports held daily anthem practice for the Australians, Mottram “only” won silver in the 5000m, beaten by 2003 world champion Augustine Choge in what former Olympic champion Steve Ovett described as “the greatest championship 5000 metres of all time”.
If, like our swimmers, rowers or cyclists, Mottram had to face only Americans and the occasional German, Brit, Kiwi or Russian – he’d be the richest and most famous sportsman in Australia. He’d be the world record holder, Olympic, world and Commonwealth champion.
Mottram is at a huge disadvantage in the race for recognition because he competes in a global sport against a global pool of competitors. Soccer aside, no other sport has such low barriers to participation and the number of global participants.
Our crickets, swimmers, cyclists, rowers and rugby players are great Australian athletes, but there aren’t that many 50m pools in Kenya, Malvern Stars in Morocco or carbon fibre row boats in Ethiopia. Only eight nations take cricket seriously and as we witnessed in the last Rugby World Cup, beyond the top six nations, there is no other competition.
Of course, as a passionate fan of athletics and a publicist for Athletics Australia I’m biased and often frustrated at the lack of credit our international stars receive, but having seen the reaction to Mottram around the globe first hand, we should be delighted that one of Australia’s best sports stars is running for us in Beijing when he takes on the best in something that most of the world population can do – run.
David Culbert is a director of Jump Media and Marketing, athletics commentator and a former Olympic long jump finalist.