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From Little Athletics to two-time Olympian

From Little Athletics to two-time Olympian

By Linda Pearce

The embodiment of selfless Australian sporting mateship has, in Cedric Dubler, a new name. 

Dubler, though, nominates a different one: Michael Criticos. Michael who? We’ll get back to that.

Dubler’s passionate exhortations to his training partner Ash Moloney in the 1500 metres of the Tokyo Olympic decathlon was, for many, the highlight of a spirit-lifting Games.

For the 26-year-old who started in the sport as a primary school high jumper in Brisbane, then progressed through Little Athletics into Queensland club ranks at UQ and beyond, there was a similar moment that resonated during his junior days.

While supporting Moloney to reach the podium is the decathletes’ way, Dubler has an instant recall of another admirable team-first gesture from long ago.

Which brings us back to Michael Críticos. A Queensland javelin thrower, he was competing in Melbourne in the Under-13 division of the 2008 Australian Little Athletics Championships,  an annual event that recognises individual place-getters but emphases team performance.

“We needed an 800 runner that day and Michael stepped up for the team and absolutely came dead last,’’ Dubler recalls, laughing. “I don’t know how, but he almost got lapped in an 800!

“It’s still a funny story that we talk about, because there was no hesitation on his behalf. He was more than happy to just jump into the 800, knowing that he had to get around two whole laps. He did it brilliantly. We were all cheering on the side and it was such a good moment.’’

The pair did not share a Little Athletics club, just a maroon singlet, yet everyone involved savoured an experience that epitomised what the best of sport should be about.

“One of the things I loved about Little Athletics was that I wasn’t just friends with people in my club, it was people from all the different clubs around,’’ says Dubler. “Every time I went to a regional or a state championships, or any carnival that Little Athletics put on, I got to catch up with all my friends from all the different clubs.

“It was such a welcoming environment to just kind of jump into. I still remember the guys I did Little Athletics with.”

 
“It was such a welcoming environment to just kind of jump into. I still remember the guys I did Little Athletics with. (Aspiring 2022 Commonwealth Games modern pentathlete) Taneille Crase is still my best friend, and Michael is someone that I still train with today for javelin. It’s weird how some of these friendships and some of these memories have lasted so long.’’

Dubler’s first taste of the sport was at a Year 5 school carnival. The following year, on his first day at the Toowong Harriers, unassuming young Cedric knew only the siblings he suspects he was responsible for dragging along.

Still, the skinny kid with the boundless energy enjoyed it from the first moment. Soccer, gymnastics and cross-country were among myriad other interests that extended to a skateboard and even a unicycle, given that too much sport was never enough.

“I do remember my excitement – and not quite the same level of excitement from my parents, cos they had to drive us half an hour to get to the club!’’ says Dubler, who switched to Aspley LAC a year later to work with Darren Murch, who would become an influential figure in his development, before his current mentor Eric Brown followed in 2010. 

“It was good fun, because our whole family was doing it, and mum and dad would come and volunteer and help rake the sandpit, or time, just those sort of things. And my older brother (Yanni) and younger sister (Xanthia) would be doing the athletics and going around with their age groups, as well.’’

Dad Gabriel soon noticed the benefits in his own relationship with his middle child. “I would say ‘green’, he would say ‘red’ – always the opposite. And then with athletics he started to feel happy inside, and he started to be positive in regards to me, so that was really good because he started to find something in life that he really loved.’’

The OneAthletics model for the unification of Little Athletics Australia and Athletics Australia at the national level is supported by the Dublers, given its vision for a new national body to streamline the pathway for athletes (and therefore parents), coaches and officials during their lifetime in the sport.

“Why not? Yes. I’m kind of still surprised that we talk about ‘Little Athletics’. It’s all athletics now,’’ says Gabriel. “With the Olympics coming in 11 years, you want to make it a normal transition. You want to make it simple. For us it was easy, but probably many others stop after Little Athletics because it’s finished, you’re past the age. So this is perfect.’’

Speaking from hotel quarantine after his return from Tokyo, Cedric finds it hard to imagine where he would be if he had not turned up for that first junior athletics adventure, but doubts he would be in the position he now finds himself.

“I definitely wouldn’t have found some of the talents that I did. I definitely wouldn’t have developed some of the skills that have helped a lot in my decathlon, and I don’t think I would have explored this sport as much,’’ he says. 

“Maybe I would have found some talents in another sport, but I don’t think I would be an Olympian if I didn’t go to Little Athletics that day.’’

 

“Maybe I would have found some talents in another sport, but I don’t think I would be an Olympian if I didn’t go to Little Athletics that day.’’

Nor would he be describing for perhaps the 1000th time how surprising it was that there was so much fuss over what he considers just a “normal” supporting role for his mate Ash. And yet the fact that a Queensland Little Athletics team from 2008 has never forgotten the efforts of a kid called Michael Critico is confirmation that although winning can be overrated, selflessness never will be.