Jack Hale at the pre-event press conference for the IAAF World Youth Championships, Cali 2015 (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Cali, Colombia

Hale and Masso hoping for historic gold medals in Cali

Starting serious sprinting only eight months ago, Jack Hale has shown all the signs of being a man in a hurry.

Yet the irony for 16-year-old Aussie, who is among the main contenders in the boys' 100m at the IAAF World Youth Championships, Cali 2015 is should he strike gold he will also have to show great powers of endurance.

Why endurance?

Well coming from the Southern Hemisphere, his summer season – unlike all those from the Northern Hemisphere – begins in September/October and, as he admits, preparing for “a 10-month season” has presented its challenges.

“The length of the season has been massive and trying to stay in good shape over the whole time without much rest has been really hard,” said Hale at the official pre-event press conference on Tuesday.

“Yet training has gone well. At the end of the (Australian domestic) season I felt more fit than fast, but now I feel fast.”

Living in the city of Hobart on the island state of Tasmania – about 150km from the Australian mainland – his parents, Matt and Toni, both competed as state-level sprinters.

Hale took up athletics aged nine and showed some early talent, principally as a long jumper.

The man of many gifts also featured as a promising footballer, appearing for Australia under-14 as a winger, before last year quitting the game to fully focus his energy on athletics.

Football far behind

“It was a difficult choice at the time but it came to the point when soccer had become tedious and I liked competing in individual sports,” admits Hale, who is coached by Rex Morriss.

At the beginning of the Australian domestic season his main target was to qualify in the long jump for the IAAF World Youth Championships and last October he leapt a useful 7.66m (a mark which ranked him second best youth in the world in 2014).

However, a badly bruised heel caused him to switch his focus to the sprints. Within two weeks of that jump he ran a 100m personal best of 10.42.

In December, the modest schoolboy then created headlines around the world by running a dazzling 100m time of 10.13 to land the Australian All Schools title in Adelaide, albeit with a healthy breeze behind him of 3.4m/s which denied him an official PB.

“It is funny,” he says. “The goal for most of last year was to come to Cali and compete in the long jump. Before last year I’d ran the 100m about 18 months earlier in a time of 11.8.”

Since that blistering performance, Hale has continued to perform well, sprinting a wind-assisted (once again) time of 10.38 to take the Australian under-18 title in Sydney.

Now the challenge is to maintain that form through to Cali.

A two-week break from training because of a throat infection at the end of the Australian domestic season, Hale believes, could have been “a blessing in disguise” because it enabled him to rest his body.

For the past eight weeks, he has enjoyed a great block of training. Now it is all about backing up his outstanding performances around the turn of the year and become what would be the first ever Australian medallist in the sprints at the IAAF World Youth Championships.

Hale, who has a great selection of potential nicknames to choose from including the Hobart Hurricane or Tasmanian Tornado, is optimistic.

“I definitely hope to bring home the gold medal,” said Hale. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I’d win the gold medal. I’m going to take everything as it comes. First, the heats, then the semis and really go for it in the final.”

Historic opportunity

While Jack Hale has switched from long jump to sprinter it could be argued that Cuba’s Maykal Masso has moved in the opposite direction.

Masso’s father was a gifted 400m sprinter in his youth, running an impressive time of 48.8 for the 400m aged 16.

After Masso took up the sport at the age of 10 under encouragement from his father, he was expected to pursue sprinting too but from the age of 12 it was the long jump that won the battle for his athletics affections.

It has so far proved the right decision and this season he has enjoyed an outstanding breakthrough, leaping 8.12m in Havana in May.

He tops the 2015 world youth lists and, as a further illustration of the quality of the distance, it also moved the 16-year-old to joint third on the world youth all-time list.

“I feel I’ve prepared well, I’ve trained well and I feel well,” says Masso, who is curiously chasing Cuba’s first ever world youth title in the boys’ long jump, despite their success in other jumps.

“Cuba has one of the best schools for long jump and triple jump. Ivan Pedroso is someone I look up to. He spoke to me before the event and said just to focus.”

Among one of Masso’s chief rivals in the event will be his compatriot Juan Miguel Echevarria, who stands number two on the 2015 world youth lists with 8.05m.

So, should Masso strike gold would we expect to see him break out into a salsa dance in the city of Cali, often regarded as the home of salsa?

“Yes,” says Masso, matter-of-factly.

If that turns out to be true, it could well be a moment to savour this week.

Steve Landells for the IAAF