How Good Is ...
Before the 200m final of the Sydney Track Classic last year, Nelson’s coach, Michael Dooley, said to her, “Don’t be surprised if, halfway through the race, you start to go past these people.” He was referring to Sally Pearson and Melissa Breen ... Nelson won and the moment she ran past the Olympians is still clear in her mind: “I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
Nelson, 22, specialises in the 200m and in Canberra in February became the fastest Australian female over that distance since Melinda GainsfordTaylor in 2000. Nelson ran 22.53 seconds, putting her in the top 25 in the world. She has to win Nationals at the start of April – a crown she has worn the last two years – for an automatic ticket to Rio.
“I’m pretty mentally unstable; I get pretty nervous before races,” Nelson says. Before her heat at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 she lost her cool. The “King” Of Cool, Australian sprinter John Steffensen, noticed her anxiety. “He got me excited again and helped me focus.” She qualified automatically for the semi-final. After the race she went up to Steffensen to thank him. She found him hanging out with the “Emperor” Of Cool, Usain Bolt. She sat and listened to the pair for 30 minutes. Steffensen has high respect for her: “She was always transparent and open ... always asking questions.”
WHAT’S HER STORY?
Michael Dooley only started coaching Little Athletics a year or two before he took the then-nine-year-old into his training squad. He remembers watching her run for the first time. She was quick early but faded towards the end of the 70m sprint. That’s all changed now. She has one of the best “negative splits” in the world – meaning she finishes stronger than she starts.
Dooley and Nelson train at the quiet Ridge Athletics Track in Sydney's Sutherland Shire, where she grew up. She has one brother and lives with her Mum and Dad but the rest of the family is in the UK. Nelson says Dooley is like an uncle. He’s a self-taught coach and you’ll often find him up past midnight reading about athletics. Nelson cherishes his commitment. Towards the end of 2015 they made the decision to sign up to an elite training facility in Phoenix, Arizona called Altis for three months. Dooley believes technical improvements the coaches at Altis made have helped eliminate Nelson’s niggling injuries. Before she returned home in January, the coaches told her not to be surprised if she went well below the 23-second barrier this year. No one thought she would run 22.5 as early as February. Steffensen praises Dooley for letting go of the reins and sending Nelson to the US. “It may just give her the edge come Rio this August.”
WHO’S SHE LIKE?
In superstition, she’s similar to many track athletes. Nelson dyed her hair black from blond three years ago and says her life has since improved. In form, she shares the long gait of Cathy Freeman. She has the rare ability to relax under speed. Steffensen and Dooley both agree she has similarities to her idol – 2012 Olympic 200m champion Allyson Felix. “She’s not a force and power athlete; she’s a ... flowing athlete,” Dooley says. Don’t be surprised if she’s pushing the best sprinters in the world at Rio 2016.