Athletics Australia’s head coach Eric Hollingsworth has barely spoken with Australia’s best athlete, Sally Pearson, since a fiery confrontation in Poland earlier in the year.
AA president David Grace QC was forced to intervene to broker talks and pacify Pearson after she took umbrage at a stinging and unexpected attack from Hollingsworth in Sopot, Poland, after Pearson had been beaten while defending her world indoors title.
Hollingsworth strongly criticised Pearson’s performance. He challenged her decision to have cut former coach Sharon Hannan last year and appoint the relatively unknown Antony Drinkwater-Newman, a former training partner of Pearson’s from the Gold Coast.
While many were surprised at Pearson’s decision to split with Hannan and appoint Drinkwater-Newman there was more surprise at the decision of Hollingsworth to attack and consequently alienate Pearson.
Pearson refused to deal with Hollingsworth and Grace arranged for all subsequent dealings to be conducted through high performance manager Simon Nathan.
That relationship is now strained too after Nathan authorised the contentious decision to financially penalise Pearson - and two other athletes Alex rowe and benn Harradine - by withholding preparation funding from her for having not attended the team’s training camp.
Pearson was understood to be angry that Nathan could accept that competing in London was important for her preparation and the best thing she could do yet he insisted on docking her a third of her preparation funding.
Pearson was diplomatic earlier this week when asked about the funding issue saying it had been an unnecessary distraction, but she did not want to make it an even bigger distraction by commenting on it further ahead of competition.
"I have to bite my tongue a little bit today,” she said on Wednesday. “It was disappointing obviously but it is out of my control now.
“I’m going to wait until after the Commonwealth Games to deal with those situations, it’s a distraction and a distraction that I don’t want right now.”
“I’m focusing everything on what I can do to win and be in the best shape possible for next week. I’m trying not to think about the unfortunate things and I will be able to speak more clearly after the race and discuss those things later.”
While Pearson did not eventually attend the camp at all as she was competing in London, Rowe and Harradine were docked money for arriving late to the training camp after a prescribed deadline. Rowe was docked despite the fact the race he competed in which forced him to miss the camp deadline was the event in which he equalled the national record.
Nathan admitted that al three of the athletes who had been fined or docked funding money had done the right thing by their preparation but, regardless, not attending the camp by a deadline breached a requirement he had put in place for the funding.
Hollingsworth is a polarising figure in athletics in Australia. He has some strong backers but an increasing number of athletes that he has put off-side with a confrontational manner.
Several athletes, like Pearson, now have little communication with Hollingsworth. He is understood not to have spoken to Melissa Breen for months after she set a new national 100m record.
Pearson was due to commence her Commonwealth Games campaign today but she has was forced to withdraw from the 100m sprint to concentrate on defending her 100m hurdles title because she is still battling to recover peak fitness after a hamstring injury.