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.

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - TV Guide - - FRONT PAGE -

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

NRL SU­PER SATUR­DAY/THE NEW BACK PAGE LIVE Satur­day from 4pm/Tues­day, March 12, 6.30pm, Fox Sports 1

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’.’’

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