Simon Turnbull: Rugby star Watt is now making great strides in long jump

Olympic Diary

Two weeks out from the World Athletics Championships in South Korea, and less than a year away from the London Olympics, Mitch Watt is standing in the No 1 spot in the world long jump rankings. At the Aviva London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace last Friday night, the 23-year-old Australian trumped Britain's Chris Tomlinson with a leap of 8.45 metres. Only one athlete has jumped farther in 2011: Watt himself, with an Oceania record of 8.54m at the DN Galan meeting in Stockholm last month.

It might have been different for the golden boy from the Gold Coast. He might have been wearing the No 13 or 15 shirt for Australia in tomorrow's Tri-Nations fixture against South Africa in Durban, preparing for the Rugby World Cup, which starts in New Zealand on 9 September, rather than the World Athletics Championships and Olympic Games.

Back in 2005, Watt was a member of the star-studded Queensland Schools' rugby union XV. He played at outside centre or full-back in a team that also included scrum-half Will Genia, outside-half Quade Cooper and open-side flanker David Pocock, who all started for the Wallabies in their 30-14 defeat against the New Zealand All Blacks last Saturday.

"I did athletics when I was younger," Watt said. "I won a couple of national titles – under-14s and under-15s – but then stopped and started playing rugby. My mates were all playing rugby and I wanted to try something different.

"I ended up making the Queensland Schoolboys' team with Quade Cooper, Will Genia and David Pocock, guys who have gone on to be stars of the Wallaby team. I was an outside back. I played outside centre and full-back. I wouldn't want to compare myself to anyone. I just used my speed."

Would the speedy Brisbane boy not rather be preparing with his old mates for the Rugby World Cup than for the World Athletics Championships? "It's a tough question," Watt said. "I love rugby and I watch every Wallaby game very closely. But I never really felt the desire to go on and dedicate all my time to rugby.

"When Will and Quade started turning professional, I was thinking, 'Oh, maybe I should have stuck with it'. But a few years on now I'm doing well in track and field, and the Olympics are coming up next year. I'm very happy doing what I'm doing. I love what I do."

And with good reason. It was only in 2009 that Watt made his international debut as a long jumper. He won the bronze medal at the World Championships in Berlin. Two years on, he is top of the world rankings, ahead of Ngonidzashe Makusha of Zimbabwe and Irving Saladino, the Olympic champion from Panama, who have both jumped 8.40m.

"It's a good time to be jumping personal bests and Australian records, with the Worlds not too far away now," Watt said. "I've got the top four jumps in the world this year [8.54m, 8.45m and 8.44m twice], which is cool. I'm trying to peak in Daegu obviously, but it's definitely a good sign."

It's a good sign not just for Daegu but for London and the 2012 Olympics. Since the Crystal Palace meeting, Watt and several of his fellow Australian athletes have been in Kent, staying at the Tonbridge base that Athletics Australia has hired as its holding camp for next summer's Games.

"We're spending a week here, seeing what it's like," Watt said. "They've relaid the track so that it's the same as in the Olympic Stadium. It's all pretty good. The plan is to stay in Tonbridge next year."

The Aussie HQ is actually Tonbridge School, Alma Mater of the late Colin Cowdrey, who played on a record six Ashes tours for England. E M Forster was also an Old Tonbridgean, so presumably Watt has a room with a view.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future