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Too Good to Retire

Unknown Thursday, July 29, 2010 , , ,
For the past few years, Mario Bonello has been on the verge of retirement. Each year, Malta’s most successful male athlete ever, goes into competition in the belief that it will be his final season before ultimately changing his mind.

“I had planned to retire a full 7 years back that is, after the GSSE held in Malta,” he admits. “I was not pleased with the results I attained then and decided to continue. I ran my personal bests after that, so I thought that the GSSE in Andorra in 2005 would be the last. And indeed I managed to win my first gold medal at these Games with the 4x100m relay. We really had a great team.”

“Unfortunately most of the team members left the sport, most notably the talented Darren Gilford, and I found myself again at the top spot in our event. I stayed on because I felt that I was still competitive with the best of the island.”

Indeed, this year Bonello has been more than competitive: he has been the best. It is a status reflected by the MAAA’s decision to choose him as the man to represent Malta at the European Athletics Championships that kick off today.

“To say the truth I was really hoping it would happen. I planned my peaks well, with the best result in the 100m (10.92) arriving at the European Team Championships which were held in Malta. However, with only one male representative making it to the Europeans I was never sure that I would be awarded the spot for the Championships in Barcelona. I am really pleased I was chosen given that I am now 36 years of age.”

“Of course there is no medal winning possibility. I hope to do a technically good performance both in the 100m and the 200m.”

Despite the elation at being chosen to represent Malta at a major championship after a gap of ten years – excluding the Mediterranean and Small Nations’ Games, the last time Bonello took part in a continental competition was the Sydney Olympic games back in the year 2000 – there is still more than a tinge of concern that local athletics can’t produce anyone capable of bettering the results of a thirty-six year old.

“Of course I think that something needs to be done. We have some good talent, but we always end up losing them at their prime.”

“Furthermore, some athletes think that you can get results within a few years of preparation. What everyone has to realize is that not only do we have to prepare the body, but we have to prepare the approach, the mind, etc. At times the latter take more time to develop then the body. We also need to seek new blood for the sport and help them believe in their potential.”

“I am presently working with the MAAA so that in the near future we will start a talent identification program. As of late, everyone has become aware of the importance of having state of the art facilities for sports. We need to couple that with talent identification and development. Only in that way can we really take the best use of our facilities.”

Those of coaching and talent identification are clearly topics about which Bonello has a lot to say, most of which comes from personal experience. “I love coaching. I try and use my knowledge and experience to bring the best out of my athletes. Furthermore, I try and treat their development as holistically as possible. You have to motivate, drive, give them believe, deal with injuries and so on.”

“Children tend to go for the most popular sport believing that that is the only road for sporting success. Many a time it is the wrong path and talent is simply lost. Children also need to get the support of the parents if they are to succeed.”

“I think the biggest obstacle is the lack of presence by the athletics community in schools,” Bonello continues. “If you never experience the sport and if no one tells you that you have the talent for this sport, then you might never take it up. We need to make ourselves more and more available in the schools. I think that it is high time that with the help of the National Federation, the Colleges across Malta and Gozo should start preparing an athletics team for participation in inter-schools competitions.”

“Athletics is not an easy sport. It is mostly an individual effort. However, approached the right way by the coaches, it can be so much fun for the kids. My experience in the Gozitan schools has been overwhelming. Children love it and I have seen great talent. And that is what we have to do with the youngsters. We need to let them enjoy the sport. As they develop through their teens, we can then identify the talented athletes and show them the rewards of hard work and dedication.”

And there can be no better example than Bonello himself. For him, this will be the second trip abroad in as many weeks having earlier taken part in European Masters Championships in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary, winning gold in the 100m.

What really keeps pushing back Bonello’s decision to retire are such results along with all the support that he receives. “I’ve been lucky enough to find lots of support through the years not least that of my wife Katya and our children Andria and Nicolai. Our kids make themselves heard really well at the track by urging me in every race at the top of their voices, “Go Papa Go!!”

This article initially appeared on the Times of Malta of the 27th July 2010.

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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer