Kim Crow competes in the women's single sculls in London.

Kim Crow competes in the women's single sculls in London. Photo: Michael Steele

It's fast becoming one of Australia's feel-good stories from the London Olympics.

Kim Crow, the one-time aspiring 400-metre hurdler, is closing in on two gold medals – not on the track, but in the Thames as a rower.

The story starts at the Victorian Institute of Sport in 2004, where she was recovering from injury. Working out at the gym, Crow was punching out some minutes on the rowing machine while coaches were working with the institute's rowers.

From just a few minutes on the machines, Crow's ability was recognised and her track career ended, replaced by one in the boat.

Tonight, she will race the semi-final of the single sculls before chasing gold in the double sculls just an hour later.

While her story is unique, it isn't necessarily new. And it's a road well-travelled by many successful Australian athletes.

It's the world of talent identification and talent transfer programs – a concept that started more than 20 years ago at the Australian Institute of Sport, when Professor Alan Hahn created a pilot program to identify young talent and turn them into world-conquering rowers.

Since then talent identification has developed and changed, but the end-goal remains the same: producing elite athletes.

AIS senior talent identification and development specialist Jason Gulbin said talent ID was responsible for a huge amount of success since Hahn's pioneer program.

"You don't always know how people have got into the sport," he said.

"But it's contributed to many thousands of national medals at a senior level, and obviously many, many more medals at a junior level.

"Certainly senior world championships and Olympic medals, too."

But what exactly makes a good athlete? And how do you identify one?

An expert in talent ID for more than 13 years, Gulbin said it's not quite as simple as using a tape measure and some weights.

"I suppose everyone thinks in talent ID you run a tape measure across, and they've got a big armspan, a big height, they've got a big engine . . . but that's the very easy bit – you can pick talent for certain sports just by your eye," he said.

"The real sophistication comes in how you can increase the probability of selection by knowing more about the biopsychosocial elements together.

"Yeah, you have good biology, some good physical attributes – your height, arm span, leg length, your physiology. It's also about the psychological elements. How mentally tough are you? How resilient are you? How dogged and determined are you? Are you coachable?

"All of those qualities are very important.

"And then there is the social element – the quality of the coaching, the quality of the cohort you train with – that you are training in a good-quality group that is pushing you. And then the other social aspect is the network of support you might have."

That's not to say physical requirements mean nothing.

ACT Academy of Sport sports program manager Andrew Stainlay said the academy held try-outs for sports in an effort to identify talent.

"We advertise for kids, and then have a whole battery of tests, invite people in, and from there go through all the stats and data," Stainlay said.

We've got to be smart with talent identification in Australia – we don't have the population base, so we have to be smart with what we've got.

"We've got the know-how from a sports science point of view and we've got quality coaches."

It's a far cry from 1990, when a 16-year-old Queanbeyan girl tried out for Hahn's program.

Megan Marcks (nee Still) teamed up with Kate Slatter, and with victory at Atlanta in 1996 became the first Australian female rowing crew to win gold.

"It's amazing how one day can change your whole life, and that day did exactly that – I mean I wasn't even a water sports kind of person," Marcks said.

"It was only that I heard the words 'Australian Institute of Sport' and thought, that's the place you want to be if you wanted to be successful in sport."