Alana soars to Beijing from Boyd family vault

Jenny McAsey | March 03, 2008

ALANA BOYD's knowledge of the Olympic feats of her parents, Ray and Denise, comes from an old suitcase filled with a random collection of newspaper clippings.

Alana Boyd

Alana Boyd wins the women's pole vault at the national championships in Brisbane. Picture: Darren England

She has never seen TV footage of Ray going over the pole vault bar at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, or Denise running the sprints in 1976 and 1980, when she made the 200m final.

But their athletic genes, coaching and support have helped her follow in their footsteps and make history in the process. The Boyds have become the first family in Australian Olympic history where both parents and one of their offspring have donned the Olympic uniform.

On Saturday night, Boyd, 23, won the pole vault at the Olympic selection trials in Brisbane, securing her nomination on the team to Beijing.

After poring through the archives, historians have discovered that while there have been several generations of families who have gone to the Olympics - such as the Roycrofts in equestrian, the diving Donnetts, and Tamsyn Lewis and Steve Hooker in athletics - no-one else has had two parents who were Olympians.

Boyd, who cleared 4.45m to win from Vicky Parnov with 4.20m, says their background in the sport and her dad's coaching have been invaluable in her Olympic quest.

"Having mum and dad's experience of competing at the highest level and knowing exactly what it takes to get there has helped me and my brother and sister immensely," Boyd said.

The Boyds, who live in Queensland, have three children, Alana, and her younger siblings Jacinta and Matt, and all are talented athletes who took to track and field without being pushed by their parents.

At the weekend in Brisbane, Matt, 19, came second in the pole vault with a clearance of 5.35m, which meant he took the "house record" from his dad, whose best vault was 5.30m in an era when pole vault standards were not quite what they are today.

While Ray went to two Olympics and won the gold medal at the 1982 Commonwealth Games, his teenage son is still 35cm away from the standard required to make the Olympic team in 2008.

"He is only 19, so it hurts that he has got me," Ray joked.

"But I am telling him I did it with a bamboo pole, landing in a sawdust pit."

Middle child Jacinta is a long jumper who came third at the trials, with a leap of 6.17m.

Alana says an athletics career was her idea, rather than her parents'. She started as a high jumper, moved to hurdles, and turned to pole vault only five years ago, when her dad was teaching her little brother.

"Mum and dad have never put any pressure on any of us, we were never pushed into athletics," she said. "I was actually the one who said when I was 12 years old, 'can I do little athletics?' and my brother and sister followed.

"We grew up watching athletics on the tele because mum and dad were interested in it. That had an impact on us, but we played a number of different sports when we were younger, and athletics was the one we chose.

"We just had a love for it like both mum and dad had."

Ray Boyd says it feels fantastic to coach his daughter to an Olympic team.

'If it was just somebody (I coached) going to the Olympics it would be OK because I've been there, but when it is your daughter, it is pretty good.

"It is fulfilling."

The family had a nervous lead-in to the trials. Alana was jumping well at training but over the past month had struggled to put it together in competition as she chased the Olympic qualifying height of 4.45m.

In Brisbane, it all worked.

"She has just about milked me for everything I've got, especially in the last four weeks," Ray laughed. "She doesn't know what clicked and I don't know what clicked either. We nearly went around the twist, but she did it. She was training well so it had to happen, but it was 11th hour, 11.59."

Ray believes Alana has one of the best techniques in pole vault, similar to Russian world record-holder Yelena Isinbayeva, and can do well at the Olympic Games.

"There are only a few girls in the world that have got what I call ... a boy technique," he said. "Because girls are not as strong and fast they can't get into those good positions, but three or four can get close to those good positions and Alana is one.

"We seem to have gotten rid of her monkey (on her back). The first thing is she has to get into the final, but I think she can jump into the top half dozen.

"But if you get in the final anything can happen."

Jacinta and Matt have already represented Australia at world junior level and want to be Olympians one day.

"The genes can play a part in the whole thing but we don't know where the enthusiasm is from," Ray said.

"It is a bit like you say 'walkies' to the dog and the dog goes and gets the lead. When we had to go to training they were sitting in the back of the car ready to go from a young age, they just loved going to the track.

"To have an Olympian now, it is pretty special."