When high jumper Brandon Starc burst onto the scene with a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 aged just 16, he showed he had great talent and the ability to deliver under pressure on the world stage.
At 21 he made the 2015 world championships final in Beijing jumping 2.31 metres. And a year later he made the Olympic final in Rio.
2018 has been a breakout year for the 24-year-old and his growing list of achievements and high-profile scalps, means he is no longer the Australian high jumper with the older brother Mitch who plays cricket for Australia. He is now one of the world’s best high jumpers.
In April on the Gold Coast he made the most of the opportunity to jump in-front of a huge home crowd and won the Commonwealth Games title with a personal best 2.32m. During the long international season that followed he has continued to deliver.
On the 18th of August he jumped 2.33m to win the Birmingham Diamond League and last weekend in Germany he converted his consistent form into a huge best of 2.36m, to equal the 21-year-old Australian Record held by Olympic bronze medallist Tim Forsyth.
“2018 has been bloody awesome,” Starc, said with a laugh from Europe ahead of his final big meets for the season.
“I can’t fault it really. Obviously, some comps didn’t go exactly how I wanted but how can you go wrong with a series of PBs and equal the Australian record, a Diamond League win, a Commonwealth Games win. It’s all going really well and it’s not over yet either!”
He now heads to Brussels for the Diamond League Final on Friday where he will go in as the top ranked competitor, jumping for the huge incentive of $50,000 USD for the winner.
“The Diamond League jackpot has definitely crossed my mind, hard not to if I’m honest. Not only has the money crossed my mind but also the win comes with a wild card entry into the World Championships next year.
“I’ll hopefully take some momentum from the last three comps and produce a great result. I’m definitely going for the win. The two top guys are out for rest of season so it’s kind of there for the taking, which is what I did in Birmingham.”
Starc will round out the season, with another 25 or so Australians as part of the Asia/Pacific Team at the Continental Cup in the Czech Republic.
Equalling the Australian record in Eberstadt
Jumping 2.36m to win in Eberstadt, Germany is significant as Starc’s name now sits alongside Olympic and world champions.
“Eberstadt has always been the Mecca of high jump,” he explained. “This was the 40th edition and there has been so much high history made at this event. It was very unique, you can choose your own music to jump to and it is very intimate. The stands were packed and even though it was a small venue it still got very loud.”
“Jumping 2.36 felt pretty amazing. It wasn’t a perfect clearance over the bar but luckily it wobbled and stayed on. Knowing no one in Australia has ever jumped higher is a great feeling and I am honoured to share it with Tim.”
After the clearance, an excited official got in the first congratulations followed by his coach Alex Stewart. Starc then he thanked the crowd and lay on the track to enjoy the moment.
“It was just pure happiness,” Starc said. “Clearing that bar and achieving such an accomplishment gave me a rush of excitement and happiness. To achieve this with my coach Alex, after nine years, is such a great feat and I’m glad he was there to experience it with me. I just wish my girlfriend Laura could’ve witnessed it.”
Laura was support crew for some of Starc’s first five-week European tour this year, while Stewart was back in Sydney.
It wasn’t the easiest of competitions with Starc needing to adjust his normal run-up. He missed his first jump at 2.20m, needed three attempts to clear 2.27m, he cleared 2.30 on his second attempt and after missing his first at 2.33 he passed and went to 2.36 which he cleared on his second attempt.
“My run up is very long for high jump and in this case slightly too long for the venue, as such it was a working process throughout the comp to find the right rhythm that worked. In the end I found one that did.”
There was great excitement in Germany, however some chocolate was the limit of the celebrations until the end of the season.
“After the 2.36 we were both pretty damn excited. He was pretty proud of me, but I was proud of both of us as a team and how far we have come together. Sky’s the limit right?”
Starc had one attempt at 2.40m and would love nothing more than to find that extra centimetre for the Australian record to close out the season. But if not this year, then he knows it will come.
“Ultimately the Australian record is a big goal of mine. Whether it’s this year, next year or 2020.”
“2.37 completely depends on the height progressions for the next 2 comps. If it crosses over 2.37m then perfect, if not just keep doing what I’m doing and see where it takes me and don’t put a limit on it.”
Home Games gold career highlight so far
Clearing 2.36 metres in front of a fantastic crowd in Germany was an amazing feeling but it couldn’t top winning gold on the Gold Coast.
“Gold Coast 2018 was unbelievable. Comm Games is definitely still the number one (career highlight). To experience the home crowd like that with the whole stadium behind me and family there was unforgettable.
“I was much more excited to win at Comm Games than even the Diamond League. It is a different vibe at major champs and I rose to the occasion. And you get a medal at the end!”
“I didn’t really feel any pressure and I didn’t feel any expectations. I just laughed the atmosphere and the support for the crowd.”
Partnership with Alex Stewart
“Alex is my first and only coach. We linked up in 2009 and being going strong ever since. The athletics coordinator at Hills Sports High put me in touch with him when I wasn’t really training.”
Stewart has had a huge influence on his athletic career and growth personally.
“We have quite a strong relationship now, its family really,” Starc explained.
“We share a lot and I don’t see that ever changing. It’s a thing that I’ll probably take to the grave really. I think we’ve both shaped each other’s’ lives in a positive way.
“You put that trust in someone else and you build a strong relationship which is what you really need in this sport to succeed.”
Trust in Stewart’s training and working hard has meant Starc is performing at the end of his longest season ever.
“I’ve never had a competition season this long. My first comp was in December and for me to jump a PB this late in the season is not surprising because I know how I feel but its very pleasing.
“To keep jumping this high gives a lot of credit to Alex and his programming to keep me in good shape for this long of a season.”
Stewart knows better than anyone the attributes and developments that have seen him become a force in the senior ranks.
“This year he has matured in every sense,” Stewart said. “Mentally, personality wise and physically and that’s made a huge difference.
“Time and time throughout his career, and right from the beginning in Singapore, he’s always had an ability to perform under pressure situations and that’s a vital attribute to being one of the best in the world.
“Something else that’s definitely emerging now is confidence in his ability to be one of the best in the world.”
Stewart also coaches two Malaysian high jumpers, Nauraj Singh Randhawa and Hup Wei Lee, who made the Commonwealth Games final and have bests of 2.30m and 2.28m respectively. Stewart tries to get them training together in Sydney as much as possible to benefit them all.
Looking ahead to Doha 2019 and Tokyo 2020
Starc won’t be sitting back and resting on his results from 2018. After a month break back in Australia he will start working hard again for small improvements in speed, strength and technique to build on this season and keep improving. He’ll be a drawcard for the domestic summer season and one to watch leading into the 2019 world championships in Doha and 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“The way this season is going will set up next season mentally really, really nicely. All positive vibes and quite motivating to lead into world champs and the next year. To sit down and start discussing plans for the next few years is quite exciting.”
Those who follow Starc on social media will know that he isn’t just a great talent performer in front of the camera. He takes great photos which he will start selling on his website soon and his video content, which often includes drone footage, is a great insight into the sport.
Andrew Reid for Athletics Australia