Melissa Breen deserves more funding than less popular sports, says Rob de Castella. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
MARATHON legend Robert de Castella has criticised the Australian Olympic Committee's medal obsession, dismissing it as a ''cop-out'' that unfairly disadvantages athletes such as Canberra sprinter Melissa Breen in the ''tough'' events.
AOC boss John Coates has signalled Australia will focus on multi-medal events such as swimming, cycling and rowing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, as Australia's Winning Edge high- performance strategy targets a top-five medal tally spot for the team.
But de Castella blasted it as a narrow focus that detracts from the achievements of athletes in hugely competitive sports such as athletics.
Breen is no guarantee to return to Athletics Australia's funding list, despite breaking the long-standing national 100-metre record last month.
The 23-year-old has set a goal of making the Olympic final, an achievement de Castella is adamant would be greater than some medals in other sports.
''I'm not a big fan of trying to have Australia higher on the medal tally, because all medals are not equal,'' he said.
''If as a nation we gauge our performance by where we rank on the medal tally, and we opt out of the tough events because we can get more medals in the soft events, that to me is not what excellence is about.
''That's a real cop-out,'' de Castella added.
''You don't want to diminish the hard work and endeavours of any athlete, but in reality all medals are not the same.
''Even making a final in the 100 metres is an incredible accomplishment and achievement.''
Athletics Australia withdrew its funding to Breen last year after it deemed it was unrealistic she would improve enough to make an Olympic or World Cup final.
She responded in the best possible fashion with her record-breaking 11.11-second run at the ACT Championships.
De Castella said it was unfair if athletes were denied the best possible chance of success simply because they're in a tough event, and said the approach could disillusion emerging talent.
''We can't not provide a pathway to support young, talented athletes like Mel and many others out there, just because the standard in the 100 metres is so high,'' he said.
''There are incredibly talented young men and women out there and they need to be given an opportunity to excel and reach their potential, regardless of whether they're up against incredible international standards.''
Athletics Australia wants Breen to post fast times consistently, and she believes she's now reaping the rewards after undergoing a painstaking technique overhaul after a disappointing 2010 Commonwealth Games campaign.
''I was a kid, it was my first senior team as a 19-year-old,'' Breen said.
''Obviously I've matured a lot as an athlete since then and I've experienced two world championships.
''It [the technique overhaul] was very daunting and frustrating, there was a lot of tears because it was two steps forward, four steps backwards.
''We want to get it to the point by 2016 where I'm technically sound under any circumstance, including the final of the Olympics.''