Gavel / Teen runner with the world at her feet

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Champion runner Keely Small… “The Commonwealth Games weren’t on my radar a couple of months ago, now I really want to strive to get on the team.” Photo by Maddie McGuigan

SIXTEEN-year-old St Clare’s College student Keely Small has the world at her feet.

In March, at the AIS, Keely ran a 2.01.46 to become the world’s top-ranked, female, 800-metres runner under the age of 18 years. It has allowed her to look beyond the junior ranks and into major competitions such as next year’s Commonwealth Games.

Tim Gavel.

Her exceptional rise in the sport has taken many by surprise, including Keely.

“The Commonwealth Games weren’t on my radar a couple of months ago, now I really want to strive to get on the team,” she says.

If nothing else, her performance has provided self belief: “I think my 2.01 time, being up there with the top athletes and being able to win that race, really showed me that I can get out there and be competitive in the senior ranks.”

She is not just competitive, but is putting significant pressure on more seasoned athletes such as Brittany McGowan.

There are plenty of sacrifices to be made when you’re in year 10 and life is becoming more social, but Keely says her focus is very much on achieving, whether at school or on the track.

“I can’t go out to some parties, but I’ve never really been interested too much in that. I get a lot of joy out of doing my sport and when I come away with a good result it’s all worth it in the end,” she says.

What about balancing school and running given it is all happening so quickly?

“It is difficult, but I just have to find the balance. Luckily, my school helps me out a lot.”

If only all teenagers were this focused.

Keely was involved in a number of sports growing up, including swimming, but after being talent spotted at a fun run in Canberra by local coach Paul Torley, who encouraged her to come along to training, she hasn’t looked back. In fact, she has been in front most of the time, yet it’s all been a learning experience.

At the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas this year she collapsed on the final stretch suffering from fatigue and dehydration. She ended the day on a drip. It’s all part of the journey.

Keely continually checks herself to make sure she doesn’t overdo it in training with the goal of competing in the Commonwealth Games emerging on the horizon.

“I am definitely pushing myself, but I know that I am more capable. I feel like I can put in a lot more effort. However, I don’t want to overdo it because I don’t want to break,” she says.

By “break” she is talking about injuries.

Injuries have resulted in many a promising running career ending with a shuddering halt.

Her father Newton is often trackside to offer guidance if required. She is in pretty good hands, though. Her coach, in the male-dominated group, is the AIS senior physiologist, Philo Saunders, who is also a runner.

“My training group is great, my coach Philo, is brilliant and the whole training group is really good,” says Keely.

This young woman is impressive in so many ways. I came away from our conversation feeling as though I was talking to a future leader, someone not confined to track and field.

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Tim Gavel
Journalist and ABC sports broadcaster

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