Master coach Dan Pfaff says it’s now or never for Mitchell Watt if he is to challenge for a long jump medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
American Pfaff shapes as one of the most important people in Australian track and field over the next 12 months.
He helped rescue Fabrice Lapierre’s faltering career, masterminding his spectacular second-placed finish in the long jump at the Beijing world championships.
And he sees no reason why Watt can’t also be in the gold-medal equation in Rio – provided he makes a quick return to competition.
“The Olympic year is a huge catalyst,” Pfaff said.
“If he doesn’t pull the trigger, then it’s done.
“I’ve told him, from our standpoint he’s got to do X number of meets.
“In my experience, podium finishers have six to eight A standards going into the meet and some of those are against your competition.
“If you do that, the metrics of getting on a podium are pretty high.”
The 27-year-old Watt has been plagued by achilles tendon injuries and has barely been sighted on the international circuit since finishing second at the London Olympics behind another Pfaff-trained athlete, Britain’s Greg Rutherford.
Watt – who also won bronze and silver medals at the 2009 and 2011 world championships – split with long-time coach Gary Bourne in January and moved to Arizona in a bid to rejuvenate his career.
The Australian record holder had hoped to compete at the Beijing world titles, only to pull out of three lead-up meets, to the frustration of Pfaff.
“Mitch’s biggest issue is medical so I think we are on top of that, we are getting there,” Pfaff said.
“I don’t think Mitch is a guy whose self-esteem and self-worth is tied up with what he does in the sport.
“I think that drives a lot of people crazy, but I find it healthy.
“I like guys with a balanced portfolio, the valleys and peaks are less, they are easier to manage.
“Some coaches want athletes whose whole life is sport and attention to detail and tick all the boxes.
“Mitch would drive them crazy but I like Mitch – he is a super smart guy, a caring guy.
“He’s one of the best guys in our group for bringing people together and supporting others.”
Pfaff rates medical progression and prevention as one of the four pillars of his coaching program and insists Watt has made giant strides forward this year.
“Just with the ability to train and his reporting,” Pfaff said.
“When he came to us his first two steps out of bed he could barely walk, we would do walking drills and he was limping and now he is training.
“But like Fabrice, the motor memory is in there.
“You just have to get the joints working and the muscles.
“He knows how to jump.”