The emergence of Dani Samuels
8 January 2007
For Sydney discus thrower, Dani Samuels, a two-time Australia Youth Olympic Festival competitor hopes are high that she will be selected for the Beijing Olympics.
Samuels, first competed in the 2003 AYOF, placing a modest third and fourth respectively in the shot and discus events.
But her trademark of success well ahead of expectations occurred a few months later when, aged just 13, she was selected to compete in the IAAF World Youth Championships for under-18 athletes.
A scholarship holder at the NSW Institute of Sport, Samuels was again in action at the 2005 AYOF. She faced the challenge of two Chinese athletes who were the world leaders in the under-18 shot and discus events. In the shot, she upset China’s Limin Jiang, by winning, but in her preferred event, the discus, she was smashed by Tan Jian, 57.01m to 51.80m.
“After the medal ceremony I felt very annoyed to have been beaten by so many metres. I just wanted to get back to training to improve and beat her next time.”
Dani’s coach, Denis Knowles, summed up her reaction to this result: "This (defeat) was the best thing that could have happened to Dani - her response was to train harder."
Later that year Samuels claimed the 2005 World Youth (U18) Championship, with a tremendous throw of 54.09m and became the first Australian women to win a world discus title. Unfortunately Tan Jian was a no show so the expected match-up did not occur.
“The next goal was the 2006 World Junior championships but the Commonwealth Games got in the way.” said Denis Knowles a master coach, strategist and calm influence for Samuels.
In November 2005 in Brisbane, Samuels made a major break through, smashing the Australian under-18 record with a three metre personal best of 58.52m. During the summer, she capitalised on this tremendous start ensuring her selection in the Commonwealth Games team at just 17 years.
At the Games, she stunned the opposition with a surprise bronze medal, achieved on her last throw when she moved ahead of former World Champion, Beatrice Faumuina of New Zealand.
“In Melbourne I achieved my goal – winning a medal as a junior athlete - it was very special in front of a home crowd and with many of my family members watching.” said Samuels.
The long awaited rematch with Tan Jian occurred in July 2006 at the World Junior Championships in Beijing.
“I was not too focused on the rematch – I was just concentrating on my own form and was aiming at throwing over 60 metres.”
History and a vocal home crowd was with China’s Tan, as China had won the last five World Junior titles. But Tan was no match for Dani Samuels who won with a stunning throw of 60.63m – a new Australia under-20 record.
A month later she made her major senior international debut at the World Cup, where she placed sixth defeating three athletes with superior personal bests, including the World No 3 and the Commonwealth Games champion.
Samuels had travelled around the world to Athens, arrived less than two days before she would compete and produced her second best throw - a mere 2.2 metres from second place – it is surely a sign of things to come.
Samuels strength and conditioning coach Hayden Knowles, who also works with boxer Danny Green, Socceroo Mile Sterjovski and the Parramatta Rugby League team, has been part of her support team from day one.
"We always knew Dani had the physical qualities to make it to the top and if we were patient and placed an emphasis on building a solid foundation with a priority to stay 'athletic' it would all come together. What has impressed me the most is mentally she is years ahead of what you would expect of a girl this age.
“She has the training ethic of a true professional, it is her desire that she trains with and the discipline she applies to the attention to detail in her training that I believe has seen her exceed all our expectations at this stage in her career."
Surprisingly Samuels also still plays basketball during winter in the Waratah League for the Bankstown Bruins and as her sister Jamie has been a Sydney Flames basketballer for the last five years there is an obvious expectation that Dani may in the future play basketball at the highest level.
“I love playing it (basketball), the jumping helps my athletics and I enjoy the team part and bonding, but athletics is my sport and that is what I’m going to the Olympics for.”
When the women discus throwers walk out on to the Beijing Olympic Stadium, Samuels will be just 20 years of age - and at her current rate of progress there is every chance she will be with them.
Hayden Knowles is adamant about her Beijing potential, "No doubt about it, put your house on it...she will be there! She loves the thrill of this level of competition... I have seen how she worked towards Commonwealth's when she probably wasn't expected to be there and I am currently seeing how she is working towards Beijing, there isn't even the thought of not being there. She modestly might not say it herself but I would quietly bet that she is striving for more than just making the team, to us making the team at this age is a great progression towards 2012 but there is something special in her that makes her want more."
The average age of Australia’s Sydney 2000 Olympic Track and Field team was 26 years, and throwers historically mature at a later age, so if Samuels can make the 2008 Olympics, she will be progressing well, and ahead of expectations.
Prepared by David Tarbotton