Grant Hackett dives into the deep end of news, writes Darren Devlyn
IN a 12-year international swimming career Grant Hackett perfected the art of silencing critics. Never was this more apparent than at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
With a partially collapsed lung, Hackett beat outrageous odds to win that most physically and mentally gruelling race, the 1500m freestyle.
Those who know him intimately have long been in awe of Hackett’s enormous heart and self-belief.
‘‘The amazing thing about Grant is the intensity in which he does his work. He loves the hard work, he loves the hard miles, he just thrives on it,’’ a coach said of Hackett.
Until Hackett’s recent retirement, he was swimming an average 70km a week. It’s estimated that he clocked up almost 44,000km over those 12 extraordinary years.
That work ethic and preparedness to do whatever it takes to make believers of his doubters is already at play in his new career at Channel 9.
The ink was still wet on his fouryear contract with Nine when viewers wrote to newspaper letters pages with pens dipped in poison.
Guide reader Gela Taylor threw this little grenade: ‘‘When will the networks stop giving celebrities presenting jobs just because they’re famous? The latest is swimmer Grant Hackett, who presents Nine’s weekend sports report. He was so wooden I thought I saw termites coming out of his ears’’.
Another reader Max Adams wrote: ‘‘Grant Hackett was a great athlete. However, standing like a statue with no warmth or personality, reciting parrot-fashion from cue cards will never make him an interesting sportscaster’’.
Brutal stuff, but Hackett’s smart enough to know he’s going to have some detractors. It comes with the territory when you’re raw and presenting news to a mass market.
Asked about the ‘‘termites’’ letter, Hackett confesses he was thrown in the deep end after just two rehearsal sessions at the network.
‘‘It was very exciting, but obviously I was nervous in the situation because I had the support from people at Nine and wanted to do a good job,’’ Hackett says.
‘‘Particularly in live TV, any mistake you make, things you don’t do correctly, are seen by a mass audience. I’d had two days (practice) to do it and thought I got through it and I hope it’s (presenting) a bit more exciting now.
‘‘I think people (critics) need to give you a bit more time before they make their comments. If people are going to judge you after just one read, I think that’s ridiculous and unjust.
‘‘I’ve had wonderful feedback, but I know there are people who have been doing this 30 years who have people that like them and others who can’t stand them.
‘‘Can I cut it? Time will tell, but I’m enjoying it and feel the fundamentals are there.
‘‘I’m on a steep learning curve, but as long as I can improve and find my own natural style, that’s the most important thing.’’
Nine has taken a punt with Hackett when it could have replaced his predecessor Heath O’Loughlin with a seasoned journalist. It’s believed Nine journalists Christine Ahern and James Talia were considered for the job.
Asked if he walked into Nine concerned that noses could be out of joint, Hackett says: ‘‘I’m conscious of the fact I have to prove myself and feel I’ve improved in what I’ve been able to bring to the newsroom. I don’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder trying to be disliked.
‘‘I try to have a positive impact on the place. Whether someone is upset with something or decisions that have been made, that’s not for me to worry about. My focus is being positive and trying to be part of a team.
‘‘I’ve had great mentoring from people in the news team since I’ve been there.
‘‘I’m at the bottom rungs of the ladder after being top of something else (swimming) and I’ve got to work extremely hard over time to develop a skill. I’m willing to put in 100 per cent to see it through.’’
Nine’s Melbourne news director Michael Venus says: ‘‘Whenever changes are made, there’s a chance feathers will be ruffled. I’ve spoken to Christine and she was naturally disappointed. I’ve also spoken to James and he’ll be back (from an overseas posting) on January 5 in a senior reporting role.
‘‘It’s fair to say he (Hackett) became available quite unexpectedly and (network chief) David Gyngell and Jeff Browne (Melbourne managing director) both asked if I felt there was a role for him presenting sport on weekends and I jumped.
‘‘He came in, we did some tests and trials and all of us saw enough to realise he could become an outstanding TV talent.
‘‘I hope those same people who wrote in (and criticised Hackett) are, several weeks on, writing to say how much he’s improved.’’
Hackett was until recently contracted to Channel 7.
It’s believed Seven chief David Leckie gave Hackett’s management the ultimatum for the swimmer to accept a job as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars or move on.
Hackett, who had appeared as a commentator on various Seven shows, was edging towards retirement from the pool.
His heart was set on a career in news and presenting and felt a light entertainment show such as Dancing could compromise his plans.
‘‘You can build your credibility over a lifetime, but it can be lost in five minutes,’’ Hackett says.
‘‘I thought joining a news team was the most credible thing I could do.’’
he may be new to news but Grant Hackett’s not wet behind the ears.
Picture: MANUELA CIFRA