PROFILE Matt Shirvington
He was once the fastest white man on the planet writes, Debbie Shipp, now Shirvo is hoping he’ll be known as the sports presenter who used to run a bit.
MATT Shirvington can almost thank rugby league for the fact he became an Olympic sprinter.
As a teenager growing up on Sydney’s northern beaches, like many of his mates, on Sunday afternoon he would join the crowd at Brookvale Oval to cheer on the Sea Eagles in the National Rugby League competition.
‘‘And then I’d go and try to emulate the likes of Des Hasler and Cliffy Lyons and Geoff Toovey at the park the minute the final siren sounded,’’ Shirvington says.
‘‘I played at school briefly but, I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t very good.
‘‘I was more the guy who would be happier to run in to pick up taps than get tackled, I hate to admit.’’
But Shirvington was fast. When he realised he could maybe make a go of a sporting career, in which his rapid dashes didn’t end with running into a hulking front rower, he turned to sprinting.
‘‘I came to a point where in Year 11 I had a chance to really focus on athletics, found a coach and that was it, pretty much,’’ he says. It was a wise choice. From 1998 to 2002, Shirvington held the Australian 100m national sprint title. He remains the secondfastest Australian of all time, and at one time of his career, was the fastest white man on the planet.
By the time he wrapped up his career in 2008, he’d competed in the Olympics, two Commonwealth Games, and multiple Athletics World Championships.
So it’s ironic the 34-year-old’s latest big career move has seen him drawn back towards rugby league.
As the face of Fox Sport’s NRL coverage for season 2013, he’ll be across all the action.
He replaces Ryan Phelan as host of the Super Saturday coverage and Monday night football, as well as joining former Channel 7 sports presenter Tony Squires on sports panel show The Back Page on Tuesday nights.
And it was another Olympic
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performance – as part of Fox’s broadcast team covering last year’s London Olympics – which sealed the gig for Shirvington.
Since hanging up his spikes, he has covered Olympics and Commonwealth Games for Fox Sports and worked as a sports newsreader on Sky News.
He’s also worked as a personal trainer, had a stint on Dancing With The Stars, and worked as sprint and conditioning coach across three codes – in NRL with the Dragons, in rugby with the Waratahs, and AFL with the Sydney Swans.
His performance at the London Olympics convinced Fox Sports chief executive Patrick Delany and sports director Gary Burns that Shirvington was the man for the NRL hosting gig, despite lacking league experience.
Shirvington plans to make that a strength rather than a weakness, as the team aims to deliver not only for the diehard fans, but also attract a broader audience.
His triumph, he says, comes when people see him as a broadcaster, rather than just a former athlete on TV.
‘‘I’ve got a great love of Olympic sport obviously, but NRL is probably my No. 1 team sport,’’ he says.
‘‘There’s been a challenge morphing from former athlete to broadcaster, and my sporting background can be both a blessing and a curse.
‘‘The blessing is you can empathise with the players and athletes in what they do – whether it’s winning or losing.
‘‘The negative side of it is you’re going into a world where people question why another former sports person has got this gig.
‘‘When it comes to the NRL, I’m not a commentator and I’m not a former player, but I’ve got a love for it, and I hope that comes through. I’ll know I’m getting it right when viewers think ‘he’s that sports presenter who used to run a bit’.’’