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Parramatta Eels star Jarryd Hayne's bid to help uncover Australia's next Olympic sprint champ


Source: The Daily Telegraph , Nick Walshaw,  twitter @nickwalshaw

JARRYD Hayne knocked back $10,000 for this story.

He was set to be paid in cash too. A small, brown envelope - packed thick with 20 bundles of folding green - which was handed to the Eels poster boy shortly after he ran third to Wallaby Lachie Turner in the 2010 Gatorade Bolt Fastest Footballer race.



Hayne, you may remember, was favoured among the leaguies. He was so popular that a Sydney poker machine company, with 10K to spend on advertising, bypassed noted flyers like Josh Morris, Nathan Gardiner and Greg Inglis to have their name emblazoned across the black body suit of this NSW Origin star.



So Hayne said yes and ran the sprint in 11.20 seconds, officially making $893 for every tick of the clock. Then, even quicker, he gave said cash away.

"I've walked up to Jarryd afterwards with the money. He didn't want it," race organiser Hayden Knowles says. "He just looked and me and said 'mate, let's give it to the kids'."

"So that was it. Next day, we sat down over a coffee and came up with a fairly bold concept."

As part of The Jarryd Hayne Scholarship, these two mates have not only set out to find Australia's next great male sprinter, but one who can make the 100m final at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The last Aussie to win a medal in the Olympic blue ribbon event was Rockhampton flyer Hector Hogan, who won bronze at Melbourne in 1956. No one has made the final since.

Yet by the time of this year's London opening ceremony, Knowles' training/management company Competitive Edge will have identified eight of the nation's most exciting sprinters who they believe can do just that.

They will then give them a year of funding, training and support before selecting one runner to concentrate on. Like a longer version of The Ultimate Fighter or Australia's Got Talent.

It's an audacious plan Hayne helped design. As a kid growing up in Minto, he had always dreamed of making the Olympics but never quite found the same support, the same hype, that becoming an NRL superstar offered.

Every week there was always another footy type willing to sling an arm around his shoulder and talk up NRL superstardom.

The dollars, too. But as for someone saying "hey son, you could run an Olympic 100m final for your country one day" ... yeah, right."Which is why I wanna jump on board and help find an Aussie kid who can run the hundred under 10 seconds," Hayne says. "Growing up myself, I really tossed and turned between footy and athletics.

"I remember competing in sprint races at 9am and, in the afternoon, driving out to Cabramatta to play in trials for the Eels. Eventually my body was burning out. I had to make a choice."

And despite being a national champion in the 200m hurdles, the decision was easy. But not anymore.

With more of Hayne's money, some input from sponsors and a chunk of cash from Competitive Edge, the chosen sprinter will be put on a scholarship similar to that of our brightest young league stars.

While Knowles is yet to lock in exact figures, you can assume from base NRL deals that he could earn around $30,000 for the first two years, $60,000 for the third and, all going to plan, around $150,000 by the time of that Rio de Janeiro tilt.

The runner will also be surrounded and supported by a group of Competitive Edge Olympians, dubbed the Athletic Allstars, which already includes discus champion Dani Samuels, boxer Jai Opetaia and sprinter Hayley Butler.

The group boasts a team of strength coaches, dieticians, nutritionists and its own backer, Pirtek, the major sponsor of the Eels.

Yet still they will have their critics.

Since 1900, only four Australians have been finalists in the Olympic 100m event - Stan Rowley (bronze, 1900), Nigel Barker (bronze, 1906), John Treloar (sixth, 1952) and Hogan.

Things have dipped so badly, no Aussie male runner has even qualified for London in the 100m or 200m.

"Saying you wanna get an Aussie male in the Olympic 100m final, it's meant to be impossible," Knowles says. "The first time I mentioned our concept to someone they looked at me like, 'are you blokes mad?'

"Yet even with millions and millions of young people running all over the world, we believe, right now, there's an Aussie kid out there dreaming of Olympic gold like Jarryd Hayne did. Why can't we make that happen? We want to find him."


Greg Inglis: A quiet hero tackling the big issues to change lives

Greg Inglis Kobi Hookey
South Sydney's Greg Inglis with young indigenous sprinter Kobi Hookey at the Block in Redfern. Picture: Gregg Porteous Source: The Daily Telegraph

STANDING in the sunshine on Eveleigh St, Greg Inglis is wearing a shirt emblazoned with his own image. Pulling it off, too.

Not the shirt - the look.

Which prompts us to ask exactly how one decides to go splashing themselves all over hoodies, tees, caps and even backpacks?

"Didn't wanna write a book," Inglis laughs.

Greg Inglis, Adam Reynolds, John Sutton
Greg Inglis celebrates with teammates Adam Reynolds and John Sutton after kicking the winning field goal during Wests Tigers v South Sydney Rabbitohs. Picture: Gregg Porteous

"But honestly, it was never supposed to be a clothing line. Not for adults, anyway. My idea was to create some gear for kids.

"Something to hand out whenever I went to footy carnivals, detention centres, high schools ... actually, that reminds me ..."

Pausing, Inglis turns to indigenous schoolboy Kobi Hookey, 14, handing him an Asics goodie bag complete with shorts, singlet, even schmick runners. And all for the wonderful gift that is potential.

The son of former South Sydney flyer Lee Hookey, Kobi also travels faster than bad news. Inglis likes this.

As revealed in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, the Australian Test star is backing a concept which - organised in conjunction with fellow NRL star Jarryd Hayne - aims to put an Aussie in the 100m final at the 2016 Olympics.

Hayne and fellow organisers, the Competitive Edge management team, have already selected six of eight male runners who will compete, like an athletic version of The Voice, for the Olympic funding, training and mentoring package.

"But they haven't found any indigenous runners," Inglis says.

"I wanna fix that. Because everyone out there has a young Aboriginal kid in their community like Kobi who can really run. So, OK, let me know.

"Contact me through Souths, through The Daily Telegraph ... speak up so I can get a dozen who Haynsey's team can come look at."

Certainly, if anyone can flush out our greatest indigenous talent, it's this man from Macksville.

An emerging Aboriginal leader who, when not earning headlines as the greatest Rabbitoh since Clive Churchill, is working as an indigenous health adviser, a Sydney University recruiter, even a primary school teacher's aide. One day, reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The next, talking with inmates at Long Bay.

"I've always had strong beliefs on certain issues. As a teenager, I was very lucky to be mentored by Melbourne and it's why I want to mentor whichever indigenous kids are picked," Inglis says.

"Importantly, they're also talking academic scholarships too ... stuff that changes a life."

According to Rabbitohs CEO Shane Richardson, Inglis has an entire vision for Aboriginal youth.

"And I'm not talking a quick PR photo with some sick kids. Too often with charity work all people do is talk. But there's a whole lot more to Greg than people realise - he just isn't that keen to promote himself," he says.

Which is why, when it comes time for a picture and the opportunity to plug his new clothing brand, Inglis changes instead into a top provided by sprint scheme sponsor Asics: "If they're putting in the money to change lives, it's the least I can do."

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