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It's 'a great step forward' as walkers may keep their footing

Olympic hurdler Tristan Thomas regrets the loss of the ''AIS family'' that kick-started his career but says increased accountability in Australian sport will benefit athletes.

And while the successful race-walking program was in danger of being disbanded, Fairfax Media understands Athletics Australia head coach Eric Hollingsworth has given preliminary approval for the walkers to remain in the capital as a group.

Hollingsworth was in Canberra on Wednesday to meet with AIS scholarship holders and discuss AA's new tiered funding program.

Thomas has been at the institute for eight years and made his Olympic Games debut in the 400-metre hurdles in London last year.

The new AA scholarship program will reduce his funding, but he will still have access to the institute coaching and facilities.

''There was something special being a part of AIS and that's going to be missed,'' Thomas said.


''It's unfortunate things are changing … the biggest nightmare would be if the facilities at the AIS did become a bunch of tumbleweeds.

''The idea of it is to become one system and I can see the pros. I really appreciate the support I've been given by the AIS and I've poured my heart and soul out for them … now it's a bit of an identity crisis.

''But we don't run for money, we run to get the best of ourselves and if you do that you'll get the support.''

Current AIS athletics scholarships will end on April 30.

Those in the athletics program will then be given AA scholarships awarded depending on their world ranking and ability. Three-time Olympic medal-winning race-walker Jared Tallent will move to Adelaide after almost a decade in the capital.

The 28-year-old Tallent was concerned the walking program would cease to exist. But Hollingsworth met the race walkers on Wednesday and if a strong group of athletes wants to remain in Canberra he has given the all clear and will appoint a full-time coach there.

The walking program has been based at the AIS for 33 years and has claimed five of Australia's last 10 Olympic medals in athletics.

AA broke its silence on Wednesday with chief executive Dallas O'Brien is adamant a new ''national athlete support scheme'' will provide the blueprint for greater international success on the track despite the future of the AIS athletics programs hanging in the balance.

The sport's governing body is undergoing major changes as part of the Winning Edge plan.

O'Brien acknowledged the frustration, but said the new AA approach was ''a great step forward''.

''This change [the Winning Edge plan] has enabled Athletics Australia to develop a national athlete support scheme for all athletes, involving the state institute and academy system across the country, which is a great step forward,'' O'Brien said.

''We understand that these changes may be stressful for the athletes on scholarship and we are continuing to host a series of individual meetings to update them on progress and talk them through what this transition is likely to mean.

''We are very proud of what the AIS program has been able to help our athletes achieve over the years but Australia's national sporting strategy has changed in the wake of the Winning Edge plan and athletics has to adjust accordingly. We see this adjustment, however, as laying the groundwork for even greater success for Australian sport in the future.''