How Good Is ...

Ella Nelson

Inside Sport - - CONTENTS - – Keiran Deck


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.”


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.”


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.

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