• Short Summary

    Australia has chosen a 14-year-old girl to represent her country in the track and field events at the Montreal Olympics -- the youngest athlete ever to gain Australian selection.

  • Description

    Australia has chosen a 14-year-old girl to represent her country in the track and field events at the Montreal Olympics -- the youngest athlete ever to gain Australian selection.

    Debbie Wells, in her first year of competitive sprinting, set the athletics world alight with brilliant runs against top Australian Olympians Raelene Boyle and Denise Robertson. She finished third behind them in the national titles -- then turned the tables by winning both the New South Wales 100 and 200 metres State titles in times that showed she would soon be knocking on the world record door.

    Her best 100 metre time is 11.4 seconds (world record - 11.07) while her 200 metre time (22.8) is only point-six of a second outside the world mark.

    Athletics officials are stunned that such a young girl, training only after school in the sleepy Northern New South Wales country town of Emmaville, can show such fine potential. Even though her times were red-hot, some officials cautioned against selecting her for Olympic competition, counselling that she was too young and that her enthusiasm would wane later in what should be her best years.

    However, the selectors chose to ignore this advice and selected Debbie on her proven record. Now she joins an illustrious group of Australian women runners who are bent on gaining gold medals.

    Her home town, Emmaville, has achieved fame only once before -- near the turn of the century when residents sighted a strange animal, dubbed the "Emmaville tiger". It hasn't been seen since -- but Debbie's athletic feats have put the town back on the map. Outside the town's one hotel are signs exhorting people to give freely to the Olympic Appeal -- a national appeal being run to help finance the Australian effort at Montreal. "Debbie Wishing Wells" are overflowing with coins.

    At the Wells' modest home, where Debbie's schoolgirl trophies are proudly displayed, the family is naturally proud of her achievements in such a short time. A business group in Sydney will now pay for Debbie's parents to see their daughter run at Montreal.

    Debbie's style is seen as a base for greater times in the future. Nearly six foot tall, and with a high-striding run, she is aiming at Russian-style training between now and the Olympics in July. She'll run 800 metre sprints with weights on her ankles and hands -- short sprints with a 12 pound weighted jacket around her middle -- and she'll build up leg power by running with powerful elastic holding her to a fence.

    Coach Ken Steward learned the Russian techniques at a track meet in Warsaw in 1972 where the Russian and Australian athletes were billeted at the same hotel.

    He is confident that by July she may be able to clip four tenths of a second off her 2000 metres time and two tenths off the 100 metres -- which would put her in line for a medal.

    Debbie will also engage in "jungle warfare" training -- three mile walks up and down hilly terrain around Emmaville.

    A modest schoolgirl, dedicated to running, Debbie has taken her selection calmly and is determined to do well.

    Even if she doesn't realise her ambition in this, her first Olympiad, she will give the world stars something to think about in the years to come.

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    Media URN:
    Reuters - Source to be Verified
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