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Tallent and Bird-Smith follow family footsteps to Olympic Games

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RIO TEAM: The Australian walkers at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will have a distinctly family feel with Rachel Tallent confirmed to make her Olympic debut alongside older brother, and coach, Jared Tallent. Jared who was selected in January for the 50km walk is also coached by wife and dual Olympian Claire. Also selected for the 20km race walk at the Rio Games is Dane Bird-Smith, who is following in the footsteps of his Olympian father and getting closer and closer to a major senior podium finish.

The pair was confirmed by Australian Olympic Committee selectors after they were nominated by Athletics Australia following their victories at the Oceania and Australian 20km Race Walking Championship. The duo, both 23, produced stunning personal best performances at the Championships in Adelaide last Sunday. Tallent was awarded the Oceania and Australian female crown after she worked her way through the field and took the lead in the final two kilometres, to claim a surprise victory in 1hr 31min 33sec. “Going in I didn’t really expect to win, I just wanted to finish in the top three to be considered for Olympic selection,” she said. With only two laps to go, the Victorian started making her way past the competition, feeling stronger as the remaining athletes dropped off. “I didn’t want the race to finish. I thought to myself I’m going to win, and I might get to go to the Olympics.

“I wanted the last lap to last forever,” she said. Tallent has been coached by older brother and threetime Olympic medallist Jared for the last three years. If he can add another medal at the Rio Games he will have won more medals than any other Australian athletics competitor. Many have said the younger Tallent is trying to walk out of her brother’s shadow, but she is quite happy being known as Jared Tallent’s sister. “I really like being my brother’s little sister. “He inspired me to be a race walker, and to one day make the Olympics like him.

“To be able to go to Rio with him as my coach, brother and my friend is the best feeling in the world.”

Tallent was raised with her five siblings on a potato farm near Ballarat, Victoria and took up walking at age 8.

Her large family has been Tallent’s main inspiration in achieving her walking goals, and the Oceania title was made even sweeter with seven out of eight family members present in Adelaide.

“Two of my older brothers have never seen me race, so to have everyone there was the best feeling. “My family has really supported me, my parents and siblings mean everything to me.

“I can’t thank them enough for helping me get to this point.”

The younger Tallent also joins training partner, Brendon Reading, who has also already been selected in the 50km event. After graduating high school in 2012, she moved to the ACT to train at the AIS and focus on achieving her Olympic aspirations. The Canberra-based athlete made her senior IAAF World Championships debut in China in 2015 and secured a 34th place finish. For Bird-Smith being selected on the Rio Team is a culmination of years of hard work to follow in his father’s footsteps. “I’m absolutely stoked to be a part of the Team,” BirdSmith said. “It’s been a dream to go to the Olympics for as long as I can remember growing up around Dad. I never really chose race walking, it just happened along the way at high school. “The Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport, it’s more than just the last four years. It’s a whole lifetime of sacrifices and challenges. Everything has built up to selection.” Bird-Smith is coached and inspired by his dual Olympian father, David Smith, who made his Olympic debut at the 1980 Moscow Summer Games. “Dad was so, so proud. I’ve never seen him as proud as that, that beaming face.” Competing on the same course as his father had 33 years prior, Bird-Smith made his Australian walking debut at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow in 2013 placing 11th. Bird-Smith and Tallent join men’s 50km walkers; Chris Erickson, Brendon Reading and Jared Tallent, and middle distance runners Eloise Wellings and David McNeill as the selected members of the Athletics Section to date.

The remaining two spots for men and women in the 20km event will be nominated to the AOC in May, giving these athletes more time to stamp their claim for selection. The first track and field athletes will be named after the Trials on Sunday 3 April. The final Athletics Section will be confirmed by mid-July ahead of the first Games in South America, opening on 5 August. Rachel and Jared are the second siblings to be selected for Rio 2016 after modern pentathletes Chloe and Max Esposito. Sailors Lisa Darmanin and Jason Waterhouse who race together in the Nacra 17 mixed class, who were named in December, are cousins.