Four jobs a Small diversion for Keely's Tokyo Olympic Games dream

Keely Small was the Australian flag-bearer at the Youth Olympics two years ago, but her senior Olympic dream is on hold. Picture: Getty Images
Keely Small was the Australian flag-bearer at the Youth Olympics two years ago, but her senior Olympic dream is on hold. Picture: Getty Images

Keely Small is still racing even though her Olympic Games dream is on hold. The problem is it's not the sort of racing the Canberra teen expected to be doing in 2020.

But Small is determined to make the most of the Tokyo Olympics postponement, which is why you won't hear her complain despite juggling training with her four jobs around the capital.

If this year had gone according to plan she would have been soaking up the Olympic village atmosphere and been preparing to make her Games debut in front of thousands of fans.

Instead, you'll find her racing between her job as a dog trainer, a tour guide and a waitress at a cafe and pub.

"It's been weird, but I've actually really enjoyed it," Small said. "I was having a rough season last year, so it was nice to reset my focus. If all goes OK next year, I'll focus everything towards that."

Small and Australia's Olympic community will spend the next two weeks wondering what could have been after coronavirus forced Tokyo officials shift the Games to 2021.

It's a bittersweet moment for many given the nature of the four-year cycle and the intricate details that go into planning to peak at the perfect time on the world stage.

Small, however, says the delay could be a blessing in disguise for her as she resets her goals and adjusts to senior competition less than a year after graduating from St Clare's College.

The 19-year-old turned all of her attention to the Olympics when she finished school at the end of last year and had hoped to secure a spot on the Australian team to compete in the 800 metres.

"I had injuries two seasons ago and it took quite a while to get back to where I was. I hadn't raced a lot in a year, so it was a shock to restart again," Small said.

"I didn't get into a few races I thought I was going to get into and it threw things around a little bit. I think the postponement has worked in a few people's favour.

"Me being so young, it's given me another year to mature in my running. Another year can be a lot for a junior to increase times and it's been good because my transition from junior to senior races was quite quick.

"This is my last year of juniors, so it's a nice transition to just go into open races next year. I've been able to put all of my effort into training to help me get ready to be a part of that."

Small burst on to the national stage when she became the second fastest junior in Australian history, breaking the Australian under-18s record when she was just 15 years old.

Keely Small, right, is one of Australia's top-ranked juniors. Picture: Supplied

Keely Small, right, is one of Australia's top-ranked juniors. Picture: Supplied

She won gold at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in 2018 and was picked in the Australian team to compete at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in the same year.

The jump to the senior Olympics would have been a giant step this year, but the delay has given her time to adjust physically and mentally to the rigours of international racing.

"I was confident in my ability, I knew I needed a few more races to be in the top three qualifying spots for Tokyo," Small said. "It was a bit stressful because I wasn't getting the racing outcomes I wanted, and that puts more pressure on.

"But I've been lucky because I've got more time to get better and hopefully I'm even more ready for next season. The aim is to be in Tokyo next year and to be ready when qualifying starts."

Small and coach Philo Saunders are yet to map their path to Tokyo qualification. Australian qualifying won't start until December, which gives them at least four more months to train. She will run in the NSW cross country championship 10 kilometre event next weekend to test herself.

Small has been training on the streets around the capital, but has also started a degree at the University of Canberra as well as working four jobs.

"I've picked up two new jobs recently at the cafe and doing dog training," Small said. "It's a dog daycare type-thing ... it's given me something to focus my mind on during this time which has been good."

This story Four jobs a Small diversion for Keely's Tokyo dream first appeared on The Canberra Times.