“Jumping Jai” Taurima’s Australian long jump record was supposed to stand the test of time. Now Mitchell Watt is here, it’s under serious threat.

Mitchell Watt. Mitchell Watt. Image: Getty Images

Mitchell who? 

The past 24 months have been a whirlwind for Watt. At the back end of 2007 he was in the middle of his finals exam week, looking forward to completing his Law and Commerce degree. With studying getting to him, he’d decided to get in contact with Brisbane’s QEII Track Club (he had shown promise as a youngster and was curious to see if he still had it). Less than two

years later, the 21-year-old was standing on the podium at the World Athletics Championships at Berlin with a long jump bronze, making him Australia’s youngest-ever World Championship medallist.Prior to Berlin, Watt jumped 8.43m in Rethimno, Greece, just 0.06 away from the Aussie record set by Jai Taurima with an Olympic silver medal-winning effort in Sydney. Watt’s jump meant be entered the Worlds as the fifth best jumper this year.

What’s his story? 

Watt’s achievement is made even more remarkable given the fact he fell out of athletics for over five years. He began grabbing attention while at Brisbane Boys’ College competing at state tournaments in 100m, 200m, 100m and 400m relays, long jump, high jump, triple jump, shot put and discus.Nationals often followed, with wins in 100m, long jump and triple jump, breaking both jump records. Despite theseachievements, 13-year-old Watt decided to leave athletics and try his hand at team sports with his mates. He moved on to Aussie rules, winning two state premierships as a ruckman. Later he was lost to sport completely while focussing on completing his degree at university.It was a chance meeting in August 2007 that brought jumping back into Watt’s life. On a night out he bumped into Kane Brigg, a high jumper and former under-13s colleague who’d been competing in Europe.

“Kane was telling me about the lifestyle of international competition; travelling and competing in a different country each week. It was definitely a motivating factor for me coming back and returning to training.”Watt contacted Brisbane-based jumps coach Gary Bourne, who’s mentored both current Australian long jump record holders Taurima (men’s 8.49m) and Bronwyn Thompson (women’s 7.00m).“When I first saw Mitch,” remembers Bourne, “he was six or seven kilos overweight and totally out of shape. When I saw him running, I cringed, as he did everything on his toes and that’s a recipe for injury if you’re a jumper. When I finally allowed him to jump, I really was quite worried about him. However, he gave it a go, and I still remember this kid smacking the board flat-footed as sweetly as you could wish and sailing past my head as I stood by the pit. I said to him, ‘Mate, you just might have something there.’”

Watt acknowledges a substantial amount of his success is down to Bourne. “Gary’s a very smart guy with a lot of experience. It’s like he knows how my body is going to be feeling each day before I even know myself.“I was also lucky enough to have him travel with me to all of my competitions in Europe this year. Being my first year in Europe, there were so many unknowns for me, but he’s been travelling with both Jai and Bronwyn over the years, so it was a massive help in that regard as well.”

Who’s he like? 

The most obvious comparison is with his coach’s former protege. “I remember watching Jai at the Sydney Olympics and thinking to myself that it was such an amazing record and that no one would break it for a really long time. It’s weird to think that I’m only 6cm away from it now.”Bourne agrees. “Talent wise, Jai was very fast on the runway, but I think Mitch will be faster and I believe Mitch has greater jumping ability. At 21, Jai had a best jump of around 7.95m, Mitch has jumped 8.43m.”With both coach and athlete confident of beating the record, thoughts turn to the Olympic Games in 2012. “A week never goes by when he doesn’t do a personal best in one or more training activities,” Bourne says. “I think he’ll amaze many people in the three years leading up to London.”

 – Richard Walker

What Do They Say?

“Jai Taurima was a fantastic jumper and was dominant in his day, but Mitchell’s the heir apparent.”

– Coach Gary Bourne