Monday, 11 July 2011

The 400 metre hurdler - Debbie Downunder

Seeing in the news today that Australian hurdler Sally Pearson broke her Australian record in the event reminded me of an article I once did about another Aussie athlete, who coincidentally was also a hurdler.

An Australian Olympian learns the old-fashioned way that discipline is the key to Athens gold

BANG! The starter's pistol is fired on a sunny Sunday earlier this summer in Lille, France. The girls push off from the blocks and fly down the track. Shortly into the 400 metres hurdles a second starter's pistol cracks. One runner, the tall, muscular Australian world champion, Jana Pittman, loses her stride, falters to a halt, looks around confused. She throws up her hands and storms off the track as the rest of the field continue over the hurdles and onto the finish line. Miss Pittman is confronted by angry coach Phil King trackside.

The Aussies in the audience were every bit as confused and frustrated as the young champion being furiously berated by her coach. What had happened?

Apparently a starter's pistol had misfired. The Australian contingent at the track had protested and requested a rerun, but as Miss Pittman was the only competitor to react to the misfire, the request was refused. A shame-faced 21-year-old confronted the media and tried to explain that it was her fault, she had lost focus. But she assured them that it would not happen again and her coaching staff would make sure of that. Reporters were unable to question the girl before she was whisked into the change rooms and then off to her hotel.

Australian hurdler Jana Pittman flies down the track and over the hurdles.

Wandering around the meet later, I chanced to run into Debbie Flintoff-King, an attractive, buxom lady in her early forties. She is also Australia's last and only gold medal winner in the 400 metres hurdles at Seoul in 1988, and wife of Jana Pittman's coach.

Sitting down in the bleachers with Mrs. Flintoff-King, we discussed what had happened over a cold bottle of Gatorade. She explained with a toss of her fiery mane that Miss Pittman has been living with her and hubby Phil King for some time, and they travel with her as well.

The seasoned champion has not only been a mentor to young Jana, she has also become a surrogate mother. Just like a real mother, Mrs. Flintoff-King confided that when the girl misbehaves or loses focus as she did earlier that day, she gets punished.

One might be horrified to imagine Coach King spanking the inspiring Olympian. He seems like such a nice man.

"Oh, no!" Mrs. Flintoff-King laughed. "Phil wouldn't lay a hand on her. I'm the one who puts her across my knee." She patted her muscled lap for emphasis.

 Gold medallist Debbie Flintoff-King in her heyday.

A more recent picture of Mrs Flintoff-King providing maternal guidance to young Australian athletes.

Using Discipline to Maintain Focus

"You saw what happened earlier during the race?" Debbie continued. "She simply can't allow things like that to distract her. I know a mistake was made, but this is a track and field meet, for goodness sakes! There are all sorts of things going on around you. If Jana loses focus like that at Athens, then goodbye gold medal.

"Good Lord! I had to fight like crazy to win my medal at Seoul, and in the end it was only because I had a bigger bust for the lean at the finish! Jana is way ahead of where I was; she's taller, stronger, fitter and faster, but unless she is totally focused she won't even make the final."

So, did that explain what had happened after the press conference, why the young runner had disappeared so quickly? "Phil really tongue lashed the poor girl and the minute we got into the dressing room she burst into tears," Mrs. Flintoff-King related in sympathetic tones. "I really felt sorry for the poor dear, but she had to be punished, and from the state of her it could not wait until we got back to the hotel.

A casual moment between Jana and coach Phil King.

"All it took was a look," she began, her green eyes flashing, "and Jana knew. She stripped off her uniform, hung it up and came to me in the altogether. I patted my lap and over she went. She braced her legs on the floor and placed her hands flat, creating a triangle over my knee.

"I stroked that firm, round, muscular bottom," and here the veteran runner licked her lips, "then commenced her spanking. I smack hard and I use slow, regularly spaced slaps. I was careful to cover her entire bottom. In no time at all the tears were flowing freely and those long legs were kicking frantically. She should have taken up swimming."

Mrs. Flintoff-King giggled at her own joke. "I kept it up until she was glowing and sobbing steadily, her bottom was the colour of my hair. I put her in the corner, scolded her about losing focus and gave her a hug, before putting her into a taxi for the hotel. I'm sure she's there right now, sleeping on her tummy, no doubt."

I asked if this was part of Miss Pittman's training regime.

The former Olympian crinkled her nose and sipped her drink before replying. "I suppose it is. I look at it as a joint effort: Jana supplies the body, Phil gives her the technique and I administer the discipline. Hurdling is an individual sport and I suppose our methods are looked upon as antiquated, but I find old-fashioned ways work so much better. No one ever won a gold medal without a team behind her."

Mrs. Flintoff-King's words echoed a few days later when Jana Pittman easily won in Zagreb, Croatia. I wondered if the girl's shapely backside could still feel Mrs. Flintoff-King's stern palm 'behind her' as she ran for the finish line in that race.

Originally published in Bared Affair, Issue 2.07


  1. Great story Debbie. I am glad my long distance coach only reads Running Times magazine. LOL.

  2. Bared Affair does it again, wonderful story Debbie. Thank you Aunty for posting it for us.

    Begs me to wonder if the US ladies soccer team does not use the same method, especially on the goal tender!! Incredible win by the ladies and amazing stop of the third shot. Again, wonder if spankings are used by the coach!!

    Thank you and be well.


  3. Debbie thanks both of you Joey and Ron.
    To use a racing term, I don't want to jump the gun Ron, but one of the Glowing Globes Gazette freelancers is working on an article about the Womens World Cup. I hope to publish it here in the near future.

  4. Can't wait, just take a view of the US coach and some of the lovely players, especially the goal keep!!

    Thank you