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Sam Russell

Written by George Karapas.


Sam Russell is a student from Adelaide making the most of his athletic talent who most recently flaunted it on the international stage. On his Australian debut he won three gold medals and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The Adelaide Set was lucky enough to catch up with Sam for a chat.


Tell us about yourself.
I’m 19 years old from Adelaide, I study Sport and Recreation Management at University and it’s my first year of that. I’m pretty into sport! I’m a massive sport enthusiast and I’ve played a lot of sports, but mainly athletics. I’m a middle distance athlete so I run 400, 800 and 1500 metre events.


When did you get into athletics?
I started at Golden Grove little athletics in tiny tots, so around five. I did that for about eight years maybe and made the move to seniors where I run now for the Salisbury Amateur Athletics Club. I’ve been with my coach Simon at a competitive level for about ten years now. I started out as a long distance cross-country athlete, but now I’m a middle distance athlete.


Is running in your genes?

This is a question I feel quite strongly about! I feel that it is to a certain extent, but I still feel like a lot of hard work needs to be done in training to get to that level. So I think that definitely my dad having quite a good aerobic capacity has helped me, and maybe also my mum for being quite sporty as well. So I do feel like some of it is in my genes but I have worked so, so hard – so tirelessly hard to get to where I want to be. I feel like genetics is a small part of it along with fine-tuning, good coaching and hard work are probably the keys to being the best athlete I can be.


When did you decide to commit to athletics amongst other sports?

I also played soccer and football for pretty much all of my sporting career as a kid and balanced all three. I kind of switched between soccer and footy the harder it got managing time, because I couldn’t possibly do all three. I stopped soccer at MetroStars when I was 17 because I found it very hard to manage high school life let alone university life. I probably could have played soccer at a lower level, but I don’t really enjoy it as much because I’m more of a competitor and want to keep improving. It was hard to do both athletics and soccer at really competitive levels so 17 was probably the cut-off point in preparation for year 12. That was the point where I knew athletics was the sport that I wanted to take to the highest level possible and it was probably the thing I enjoyed most, so I made the decision to go with the individual sport in athletics.


Did the risk of injury in those contact sports influence your decision?

That played a massive part while playing soccer, and even now how I play indoor soccer. I want to keep playing soccer because I love it so much and it’s just something I don’t want to completely cut out of my life. It’s hard because it’s a contact sport, you can sustain a lot of niggles and injuries from tackles, and the same goes with footy. It’s very much a worrying thing because it’s cut me out a couple of times when I’ve had little injuries with my groins which is hard to overcome and definitely impacted on my athletics. Good physiotherapists definitely help as well and Jim, my physio, has helped me through growing pains and little soft tissue stuff I had from soccer.


How do you separate yourself in a highly competitive, results-driven industry?
I kind of thrive off pressure, although I really get nervous about events in athletics when the adrenaline is pumping through, but I think I run my best when there’s pressure on me. I feel like competitive sport is what gives me the ability to compete at the highest level, as well as self-achievement. If you achieve something it takes the pressure off, and although this industry is time-driven, I enjoy being under pressure enough for it to not have a bad influence on me or to negatively impact my times. I’ve never really been one to have a kick in the park. It’s always about who wins, and I’ve got to win! At the end of the day I think athletics is competitive, but it’s also great how everyone helps each other out, even when they’re trying to beat each other. In athletics, without runners all running those times, you’re not going to make it to Commonwealth and Olympic levels.


Do you believe it’s harder to break out in Adelaide compared to larger (Eastern) states?
Definitely. Victoria, for example, has got around 50 tracks I think; proper synthetic tracks which is a huge plus in facilities and opportunities. I think that we’ve lost so many people who don’t even know about the sport. I think that happens in Adelaide much more than larger states because we’ve only got one track, and not many people even know of Santos Stadium because it’s so hidden. We don’t want to portray as an athletics community that it’s all about elite performing athletes, I mean, we have bodies in place to choose athletes that want to be at that elite level. We want to appeal to the people who just want to have a run on the weekend, for example; so as much as we want to improve the high-performing athletes, we also want to improve the ones who don’t want to get to that level.


Tell us about your Australian debut.
I debuted for Australia in April for the Oceania Games held in Cairns. It’s a competition that helps the development of athletes who haven’t represented their country before, and it was great to be given the opportunity to run at a national level. It was a pretty cool experience just to run against athletes from different countries. I ran the 800 and 1500 metres and won gold in both events, which was awesome, and then I got picked for the 4x400 metre relay team based on my performances in the 800 and 1500. They felt I had quite good speed, which gives me the ability to run a pretty quick 400 metres. I ran the second leg of the relay and we managed to win gold against a pretty strong Fiji team, which was awesome. I also made some pretty good friends and have some pretty good memories winning gold medals for Australia for the first time. It’s definitely the thing that pushes and encourages me to keep on going. The goal of breaking out is almost there to be the best you can be.


Do you see yourself representing Australia in the future?
I don’t like to get ahead of myself, I like to be modest because even though I’ve now represented Australia, there’s still a whole lot more hard work to do. This is only the start, despite all of the hard work that I’ve already done, there’s still so much more to do in order to progress. I definitely have the drive to do so; I’m ready for the challenge, I’m ready to give it my best shot and if it happens, it happens and if it doesn’t, I know that it probably wasn’t meant to be, but I’ll definitely be giving it my best shot because it’s something I think that I can do. I want to be one of the best middle distance runners in Australia. I want to be known for being one of the best 800 and 1500 metre runners in Australia.


Will we see a 2018 Commonwealth Games berth?
Hopefully, hopefully! Aiming for Rio is probably too much of a stretch because it’s a

bit too close, especially for the goals I want to achieve in the meantime. But 2018

is definitely something that my coach and I are aiming for, especially after the performances I had for

Australia in April. It’s definitely something I’ll be training towards, it’s definitely exciting and it’s something I think we can achieve in time, because there’s plenty of time to keep pushing myself and improve. I think that I can get there with training and guidance…and no injuries!


How do you plan to use your athletics (reputation) in the future?
I’ve got a pretty realistic view about it, because athletics is a very hard sporting business to make money in, and in amateur athletics we don’t get paid for going over and competing in games, it’s all endorsements. So I feel as if the more I get my name out there and the more success I can get it’ll help me in my career of sport and rec management and it’ll help me find employment in terms of developing and managing sport. Athletics is one of the industries that I want to work towards because I’m passionate about it and I want to help South Australia improve in participation and development in terms of athletics. I hope that if I’m a well-known athlete, it might give me a better shot at getting jobs for Athletics SA or Athletics Australia, which is where I aim to be in the future. Realistically I want a job in managing and developing athletics, so the better I perform and the better I become I think it’ll help my career. Its still intrinsic, I want to be the best I can be and see how far I can get.


Just on endorsements, how prevalent are they in athletics?
You have to pay your way around in athletics, so you really need endorsements in order to compete interstate and overseas. It doesn’t cost $2 to fly over to Rio for example! It costs so much money to afford that stuff, so if you’re endorsed by a big brand it helps a lot. It helps you pay for your clothing, your flights and everything like that. That’s all athletes want, that’s what I want. I just want to be able to keep performing, wherever the competition may be, to keep being an athlete. I wear Nike by choice at the moment, so I’d be more than happy if they wanted to jump on board! There’s actually a UK brand called Ronhill, which I’m sort-of endorsed by; Ronhill Down Under is their Australian marketing strategy to expose the UK based brand. So our coaching squad, my coach and I sort-of have sponsorship with them. We get clothing from them quite cheap so they’re sort-of endorsing me, but they don’t make shoes, so I’ll probably be looking towards a company that manufactures shoes also. Ronhill is a great start, they make great clothing and hopefully they can keep supporting me as an athlete, but if not, I plan to definitely get endorsed because its helps me finance my goals and aspirations.




















The Adelaide Set top 5 questions


Favourite café?

Exchange Specialty Coffee


Favourite sporting team?

Adelaide United Football Club


Favourite place to relax?

I’d say the running track, or maybe the beach


Favourite beach?

Anywhere on the Yorke Peninsula


If you were Mayor of Adelaide for the day, what change would you make to the city?

I’m actually quite happy with where the city is heading! All the little cafés, bars and the little inroads with food spots. If we can get a lot of these little businesses right and keep on supporting them, I think it’ll only get better.


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Sam Russell is a student from Adelaide making the most of his athletic talent who most recently flaunted it on the international stage. On his Australian debut he won three gold medals and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The Adelaide Set was lucky enough to catch up with Sam for a chat.

Interview Conducted by;

George Karapas