The Commonwealth Games are just around the corner, and like most Australian athletes, Melissa Breen is now over in Europe preparing for the championships. James Sullivan caught up with her before she made the journey.
Melissa Breen is a sprinter from Canberra, Australia, who competes in the 100m and 200m. She has represented Australia over 100m at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and at the 2012 London Olympic Games, and competed in both the 100m and 200m at last year’s World Championships in Moscow. In February 2014, she broke the long standing Australian 100m record of Melinda Gainsford-Taylor with an 11.11 clocking in Canberra. She has been selected to represent Australia at the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Melissa: It all started for me at the age of six at Tuggeranong Little Athletics Club. My older brother Matt was already participating, and as the annoying younger sister it seemed suitable that I joined in too! From the beginning I always enjoyed the shorter events, and the walk… because it meant I could talk to my friend the whole time. It was called the ‘walk & talk’ event!
James: Growing up did you have a particular idol in the sport?
Melissa: I looked up to Melinda Gainsford-Taylor. I watched her compete at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Seeing her and Cathy Freeman make the 200m final was something so uplifting, having two Aussie women in that final. I fell in love with the Olympic spirit back in 2000 at the age of 10 and knew that I wanted to one day be part of it.
James: What do you believe to be your strongest attribute with regards athletics, and what area do you feel you could improve on the most?
Melissa: My strongest attribute would have to be my self belief. I believe I can one day break 11 seconds for the 100m. If even only a very small percentage of people believe, I know we can get the job done. So far my coach Matt Beckenham and my team have done something no other Australian female has done, run 11.11, so in the next 6-8 years why shouldn’t I believe I can run .12 second faster?
Matt and I are continually working on technical aspects of my race, from the start, acceleration, transition, top end speed and finish. My top end speed is getting close to world class, but it’s the ability to hold that speed for longer which is what will get me to a sub 11 second 100m.
James: You represented Australia at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2012 Olympic Games. Can you put these experiences into words? What were the biggest positives you took from each event and what lessons have you learnt moving forward?
Melissa: 2010 was a challenging time for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself as a 20 year old and didn’t deliver, but it’s because of this, I was able to break the Aussie record this year. Nothing comes easy, and things don’t happen overnight so I’m grateful for the hard times in Delhi because they helped shape the athlete I am now.
2012 was incredible. Being part of the Olympic Games is something I had dreamt about my entire life. There were three moments of extreme clarity and realisation that I will be an Olympian FOREVER. 1) Receiving my uniform. I remember so clearly that day. I was with Lauren, Dani and Kathryn and we were in a massive warehouse trying on all our kit and making sure it fitted perfect. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. Looking down and seeing the Australian coat of arms and Olympic rings embroidered was a very special moment. 2) The opening ceremony. It was emotional and breath-taking. Sharing this moment with Lauren and Brenden was awesome, we had worked so hard together in Canberra and it was wonderful to share this experience with them. And of course 3) competing! I was always so jealous of the field event athletes that got to spend ages out there, but for me it was all over too quickly. I gave myself time to look up and take in the crowd before setting up my blocks and racing the best athletes in the world. I ran 11.34, I didn’t make it out of the heats, but I couldn’t stop smiling. Forever an Olympian.
James: You recently broke Melissa Gainsford Taylor’s 20 year old Australian 100m record with an 11.11 clocking in Canberra in February. Can you describe this experience?
Melissa: This was the best day in my athletic career so far. It was perfect. I didn’t even realise I broke the record. I didn’t look at the clock when I finished and all I could hear was Ollie’s voice screaming and the crowd going nuts. And when I heard 11.11 I broke down, we had done it!
James: What other moments from your career to date are you particularly proud of?
Melissa: Winning my first 100m national title in 2010. Making my first senior team in 2010 at the age of 19. Committing to change after 2010 with my coach Matt, accepting I wasn’t good enough and deciding to change everything technically and believing that it would work! Keeping the faith through that period was extremely tough. Running a personal best of 11.27 weeks out from the Olympic Games in 2012, and proving that I belonged in that team by running the A standard. Sydney Track Classic 2013 PB in 200m and 100m.
James: You have been selected to represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this month. What are your goals for these championships?
Melissa: To make the final at Glasgow in the 100m, medal in the 4x100m relay with the girls and to remain injury free.
James: During the outdoor season what type of anaerobic top speed sessions would be commonplace in your training routine? What sort of technical work do you do?
Melissa: Speed Session: 120m (30sec) 80m x2. 150m x3. 100m, 80m, 60m x2.
Block sessions over 20m – 60m. Always focusing on technique, foot place, striking ground, recovery knee and relaxation.
James: What sort of specific aerobic and speed endurance work do you do throughout the year? How does this differ between winter and summer?
Melissa: Speed end session: 200m x5. 250m, 150m, 200, 80m. 215m, 200m, 150m, 120m.
Matt works me pretty hard all year. We’re learning a lot each year but we are now a lot more certain of what I need and what gets the job done.
James: With regards strength work in the gym how much emphasis do you put on this? What sort of specific exercises do you incorporate into your training?
Melissa: I can seriously look at weights and get bigger. So the majority of our work in the gym looks at power based strength, elastic qualities and plyometrics. Specific exercises would be power cleans, snatch, hurdle jumps and med ball work.
James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
Melissa: I hate speed endurance sessions but I understand how good they are for me. I always die an awful death but it’s a good feeling once the session is done. My favourite session is by far blocks. Although they can be frustrating at times I enjoy the technical aspect of these sessions.
James: Many Australian athletes have struggled with the track season in Europe and the major championships being at a different time to the Australian track season and can often peak three or four months too early. Has this been a concern for you in the past, and how did you manage this challenge? What would an average week of training consist of during the transition from Australian track season to European track season?
Melissa: At the moment I’m three weeks out from flying to Europe and this is my week
Monday: AM Track Speed Blocks PM Physio / Pilates
Tuesday: AM Gym PM Track Back end speed & Gym (again)
Wednesday: AM Track Speed Endurance PM Pilates / massage
Thursday: AM Gym
Friday: AM Track Speed Endurance PM Massage / Physio
Saturday: AM Plyo
Every year we learn more about what it takes to be able to back up from the Aussie season. It’s a challenge but it’s how we have to do it. I’m feeling really confident about the season in Europe ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
James: Since you broke the Australian record, your lack of funding has been highlighted in the media. Do you feel athletics in Australia gets its fair share of funding or can more be done to help the sport develop? Is athlete funding distributed fairly? How do you support yourself financially?
Melissa: Funding has been a talking point for sure, but what upset me more was their lack of belief in me. They do not believe I am capable of great things, and that is their opinion which everyone is entitled to but it’s not going to stop us from achieving our goals.
James: That’s great Melissa. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck in Glasgow and beyond.
Melissa: Thank you!