Interview: Craig Mottram On His First Year Coaching OAC Oceania + Approaching The Olympic Year

By Mitch Dyer

December 1, 2023

While many track and field fans have been blown away by the rapid ascent of the On Athletics Club based in Boulder with coach Dathan Ritzenhein, the Swiss sportswear company has also invested resources into developing a professional team in Europe and most recently in Melbourne under the tutelage of four-time Australian Olympian Craig Mottram.

The team launched in February 2023 and included rising stars Claudia Hollingsworth, Keely Small, Tess Kirsopp-Cole, Maudie Skyring and Olympian Ben Buckingham. Two months ago, they announced the addition of four new athletes to the team.

As an official media partner of the 2023 On Track Nights series, our contributor Mitch Dyer had the chance to catch up with Mottram before the inaugural year of the circuit concludes at the Zatopek: Ten, which will also serve as the Australian 10,000m national championships for the Paris Olympics. You can follow Straight At It on Instagram for more coverage of the meet as well as year-round coverage of Oceania track and field.

The following interview has been edited lightly for clarity and space. You can watch the full conversation above.

MITCH DYER: You’ve got an interesting group with this OAC. It’s very young but it’s also very experienced with multiple Olympians. Is it a refreshing feeling for someone who has been in the sport for a long time to coach a group like this?

CRAIG MOTTRAM: Absolutely. What we’re doing with the OAC down in Australia is unique to our region. We’ve seen a lot of success with what Dathan (Ritzenhein) has done in the U.S. and Thomas (Dreissigacker) in Europe over the last 12 months. For us, bringing a young team together has been fantastic but in my opinion, what we’ve done is made sure that we have a couple of key leaders in that group as well to show the younger guys the routine and rhythm of what it’s like to be an elite athlete. I did that myself as an individual athlete. But, sometimes as the coach, you need to have some other athletes to share that experience. I think we’ve brought a good team together. They’re loving it and we’re doing great things. I’m excited to watch them race.

MITCH DYER: Is it hard to take your athlete hat off and put your coaching hat on? How did that transition work for you since you were a pretty hard-nosed athlete? Did you take a second approach to coaching?

CRAIG MOTTRAM: I think there’s a bit of both. You can’t just rely on your experience as an athlete when you transition into coaching. I’ve been coaching for a number of years and within the school system for 12 years. We’ve had a lot of success with that middle school to high school age bracket of 12 to 18-year-olds. I dabbled in the high-performance space with a few athletes along the way. I think this generation of athletes is different across the board compared to what world athletics was like when I was running. You can’t just be one-size-fits-all for everybody.

I always get asked about my philosophy on coaching. In short, it’s about relationships. It’s about athlete management and making sure that you build trust with the people that you’re working with. Ultimately, you’re making sure the team is healthy, fit, having a good time and that we’re believing and confident in each other. We’ve built that.

MITCH DYER: What is it that you look for in athletes that will gel with the team that you’ve got?

CRAIG MOTTRAM: That’s a great question. In a 20-30 minute phone call, it’s impossible to determine that. It’s a gut feeling really. In essence, we’re looking for good quality people who have a lot of talent and upside in the coming years. We’re not looking for ready-made athletes at this coming stage. We have a couple that are superstars already in our sport.

We’re looking for athletes that bring something to the group. Their personalities are great. They’re engaging people. They have a lot of fun. And they can participate in middle distance at a very high level. That’s something that is really hard to determine over a Zoom call. We’ve done a lot of due diligence in the process that we take. There’s a series of questions that I like to ask and we see what kind of responses we get. At the end of the day, we’ve also turned away a couple of athletes who are potentially world-class as well because I didn’t feel like they were going to fit with the group or add value to what we were doing.

The idea behind this group or my view is to be world-class and to be competitive at the highest level but it’s got to outlive me and it’s got to outlive this group of athletes. We have to build something that’s sustainable beyond our time in the sport and that’s what we’re doing.

MITCH DYER: It’s an Olympic year. It’s something the athletes think about well beyond right now. You just signed four new athletes. There’s NIL over in America. You’ve been to four Olympics. You know what it’s all about. What’s the feeling among this group going into a big year?

CRAIG MOTTRAM: Excitement. We just did three weeks at Falls Creek. We’re still doing the grinding work. We’re not getting ready for any particular race before Christmas…We launched in February of this year. So this is, in essence, our first Australian summer and our first full season together as a team and full roster. I genuinely feel a lot of excitement, as do the athletes, to see what we can do.

We’ve put in various degrees of work. Some of them have been with me for three months. Some of them have been with me for six to 12 months. The fruit of that labor will come out in the latter part of this season and the European summer. Ultimately, for Paris it will be amazing to get one or two on the team. But for us, it’s a long-term vision. It’s about LA in 2028 and then Brisbane 2032. If we can get some great results this summer, and we will, that will be a really huge step and we’re excited to see that happen.

Mitch Dyer

CITIUS MAG down under correspondent Mitch Dyer hosts the track and field podcast Straight At It, where he highlights Australian Athletics. Mitch is a sports journalist, commentator, and rising media personality in the running world.