Small keen to end big wait for Australian record

It's a record old enough to be her mother. For 43 years it's stood there, patiently waiting for someone faster to come along.

Canberra's Keely Small is crouched and ready to jump, staring it down from 800 metres away. The 17-year-old is determined to replace Charlene Rendina's name in the record books.

Canberra athlete Keely Small has her sights set on the 43-year-old Australian 800-metre record.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

Having started out with swimming, she fell in love with athletics from a young age, dominating her preferred distance. So much so, she's never been beaten at the Australian championships.

With a Commonwealth Games already under her belt, she's got "unlimited" potential that will hopefully run Rendina down.

One minute 59 seconds. Set way back in 1976. That's the mark Small wants to beat.

She already doesn't have far to go, her personal best is just 1.81 seconds off the mark.

Her coach Philo Saunders is confident she can knock off the couple of seconds needed to overtake Rendina.

"It's pretty unlimited at the moment," he said when asked about Small's potential.

"The success she's had as a teenager, if she can keep that drive and training progression going she's definitely going to make Australian teams from now for however many years.

"How far she can go in those teams? Making finals and potentially medalling at major championships.

"I think the Australian record is something both she and I would really like to get. I think she's capable of breaking that record."

2018 was a massive year for Small, winning gold at the Youth Olympics and competing at the Commonwealth Games.

It's a goal Small shares and she wants to "give that one a crack" soon. But it's just one of a number the young runner has.

She's coming off a massive 2018 where she competed at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, carried the Australian flag at the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympics in Argentina and then won gold in the 800m a few days later.

It's a year that's going to be hard to top, even though she's hoping to qualify for her first senior world championships – to be held in Doha, Qatar, at the end of September – and has the small matter of year 12 to complete at St Clare's College.

Then, after the worlds, the Olympic Games in Tokyo will begin to loom in the 2020 horizon.

"I don't know how you top that year, it was pretty big, but I'm looking forward to a year that isn't as big," Small said.

"Not a lot of focus has to be put on two big events, which is going to be great.

"The goal is Tokyo 2020 so having a bit of a quiet year, being able to train a lot more, get a bit of a base going and then hopefully get some qualifiers and make that Tokyo team.

"I would love to make the worlds team this year. I think that would lead well into coming off Youth Olympics and Comms and towards Tokyo 2020 in the future."

After enjoying a break for the holidays, Small's summer is ramping up as she looks to qualify for Doha.

Small just needs to beat her personal best by 0.21 seconds to qualify for this year’s world championships.Credit:AAP

She'll start out at the Canberra Festival Athletics, then the ACT championships, the Sydney Track Classic and the NSW championships – all building towards the Australian titles in Sydney at the end of March.

If 1.81 seconds sounds small, she only has to strip 0.21s to qualify for the world championships.

"I've got to run a PB to make it, but it's not impossible. Hopefully I can better it. It doesn't seem like a lot 0.2, but in an 800m it is. We'll see how we go," Small said.

If she doesn't qualify during the summer, then Saunders said they could head to Asia for some events.

He's been her coach for about 2½ years.

It's given him a good insight into what makes this emerging star of the Australian track tick.

Competitive, mature, respectful and a quiet achiever are just a few of the words that fit the bill.

Saunders said she also had "natural raw speed" – a rare commodity for distance runners he said was "critical" for the 800m.

He felt she could also develop into a 1500m runner, as she builds her baseline fitness.

"The impressive thing is the way she holds herself together at such a young age, pretty mature, doesn't get ahead of herself too much. She just gets the work done," Saunders said.

"She's an awesome person. Just really respectful. She doesn't want extra attention, she's really supportive of everyone in the group. Wants to be her best so you know she's going to do everything you say."

Small's part of a highly talented family – her cousin Greta Small's an alpine skier and two-time Winter Olympian.

Her parents have been supportive of her blossoming career, with her father Newton her "No.1 supporter" – just as they were for her older sister Eilis, who's chasing her dream with the Birmingham Royal Ballet company in England.

"She was with the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne, she moved out of home at 16 to follow her dreams down in Melbourne and ended up getting a contract with the Birmingham Royal Ballet over in the UK," Small said.

"Which is pretty exciting for her. It's only us two and my parents are awesome. They're always supportive of both of us and what we want to do."

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