Several afternoons each week at Wherrett Park in Maclean it’s not unusual to see veteran athlete Tom Hancock teaching teenaged athletes the finer points of throwing discus, javelin and shot-put.
Hancock’s pedigree is a fine one, too: he coached eight-time Australian discus champion Werner Reiterer to a gold medal at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada – and was named Australian coach of the year as a result.
The 79-year-old is still competing and has a bulging trophy cabinet that includes a men’s throws pentathlon gold medal at the World Masters Athletics in the 75 to 79-years-old division.
But it’s from his young charges that he derives the greatest satisfaction.
This year, among his squad there are four athletes who have qualified for the upcoming Combined High Schools State Championship at the Sydney Olympic Park Athletic Centre on September 3, 4 and 5.
Hancock says 17-year-old Richmond River High student, Adrian Basso, has what it takes to make his mark as a thrower.
Towering over his coach, Basso is a six foot eight (2.032 metre) gentle giant who met Hancock at a regional athletics carnival three years ago. “From then on we just went on with it,” Basso says.
“He’s a pretty good person and he’s a good coach … I like doing it [throwing a discus].”
When asked what he aspires to, his answer was unpretentiously laconic: “If I’m half decent at it, maybe there’ll be something to carry on with.”
Hancock says Basso threw the discus 10 metres further than his closest rival at the recent regional titles.
“Thirty-nine metres will get him well into the final [in Sydney],” says Hancock. “Over the next few weeks we’ll get him over 40metres and that will be competitive. Adrian plays a bit of rugby, but he’s not aggressive – but he is aggressive with this.
“If he sticks with discus he’ll probably throw 50 metres and, if he threw 50 metres, he’s starting to get up into Australian [titles territory].”
Maclean High School students Alyssa Luland (javelin and discuss), Rhiannah Woods (javelin and discuss) and Elizabeth Hyne (javelin) are the other members of Hancock’s elite squad.
Luland says she hopes “to get gold at state, but it’s just a really fun thing to do – Tom’s up there [as an athlete] and is really nice… yeah”.
Hyne enjoys throwing a javelin because “it’s a fun way to get fit and be active – it’s a very interesting sport”.
Woods says she likes “doing discus ‘cause it keeps my arm active” and that she aspires to “be like Tom; he has a lot of knowledge, so I believe in what he is saying”.
Hancock says his throwers are “all pretty good” and thinks Woods has potential. “She’s just started, she’s got a hell of an arm and she’s only in year 7. The other girls are in year 10 and year 11, so they’re a bit older.
“Rhiannah; she’ll be back here again next year, she’ll go well.”