Green and gold with an undertow of blue and yellow. Sprinter Hana Basic will represent Australia, with her Bosnian heritage not too far from thought.
A stroll around the Collingwood athletics track last summer with her coach John Nicolosi helped to give national sprint champion Hana Basic an idea of where she was going. A glance down at her fingernails in the almost certain event that she makes it onto the blocks for the Olympic 100-metre heats in Tokyo is a nod to the journey so far.
“John loves pulling me away for a chat and a walk, and this day he was talking about where he thought I was headed, considering how I’d been doing, and then he said something about the Olympics and I sort of said ‘oh, yeah, like the next Olympics’. And he said ‘no, you’re going to these Olympics. And that’s nothing. That’s just the start of it’,’’ Basic recalls.
“I was ‘ah, ok’. I was a little bit sceptical, and then I raced again and was like ‘okay, this is becoming a little more realistic’ and then it just kept happening, and then my ranking kept improving… So, slowly and surely, I started believing in myself that little bit more. Every race, and every training session.’’
If the bubbly 25-year-old credits Nicolosi for instilling the confidence and faith in her ability that had long been recognised in track-and-field circles, then a newly-dedicated Basic has been responsible for such a successful execution.
Having gone six years between personal bests, she missed the Olympic qualifying time of 11.15 seconds by just 0.03 in Brisbane in March – when running the fourth-fastest time ever by an Australian woman. “Agonisingly close!’’ Basic laments. “It was a heat, so if I had have known that I was going to run that fast, I just would have squeezed that little bit, or dipped at the end or something and I would have got it.’’
Chances are that she won’t need it, though. Part A of the equation was to win the national title in April. Tick. Even without running the qualifying time at her final attempt on June 29, she will still be on the plane to Japan if she is ranked inside the IAAF’s top 56. As of last Thursday, she was at No.46, providing a 10-spot buffer with just one week remaining.
“I don’t want to go the early crow, but I’m pretty set in stone at this stage,” Basic said before flying out to Switzerland on Saturday to prepare for several international meets.
And, as for how she’s got there, it’s quite a tale.
Her parents, Armin (a cafe owner) and Zana (a lawyer), emigrated from the former Yugoslavia during the Balkans war, bending a few rules to overcome border and visa complications and marry (with a cousin possibly standing in as the groom—it’s a long story), before arriving in Melbourne in 1993. Mia was born the following year and Hana in 1996. A set of Bosnian grandparents arrived next.
Neither child could speak English when they started primary school in Melbourne’s east. “I remember just feeling like I didn’t quite fit in,’’ says Hana. “I was probably just too young to understand. In prep my sister would come and pick me up from my classroom and we would hang out together. I did English as a second language during prep and grade one, and Mum had to come into school in prep and meet with my teacher, cos I stopped speaking for three months.
“I don’t remember this, but I must have been overwhelmed or anxious or something, because I couldn’t understand and communicate and didn’t form friendships and things like that. But once I learnt the language I came out of my shell, and I think I’m quite a friendly and likeable person, so I had no issues. But it was hard. It just taught me to be super-resilient.’’
In part because of her European background, gymnastics was Basic’s first sport. Yet, after a decade spent learning the, well, basics that have since proved so valuable, the emerging sprinter found there was simply not the time and energy to do both.
A general excellence scholarship to Carey Grammar was negotiated by dad Armin as a package deal to include Mia, although super-social Hana admits with a chuckle that she was there “for the sport, not the general excellence”. In Year 12, she was selected in a senior Australia relay squad, posting a long-time PB of 11.64 in 2014 at the age of 18, before running injured at the World Juniors.
After years of physical struggles and wavering commitment symbolised by regular overseas holidays with family and friends, it was not until December 2020 that she would run 11.63. And it was a further 12 months—after a super-disciplined pair of Covid-lockdowns with footballer partner Kyle McDonald—before she would sizzle in a breakout domestic season.
“I’ve just matured a lot and become a lot more independent,’’ she says. “But I still have a long way to go, and I do have so much more to give. I think it’s exciting that after one very solid pre-season these results can come. So building on that each year and also exposing myself to better competition and international competition, which I haven’t gotten to do yet, that will hopefully take me to the next step.’’
This one seems sizeable enough, and those at home watching Australia’s fastest woman wearing the green and gold in Tokyo might notice the nails. They’ll be a nod to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where her grandmother and many extended family members still live, and which has adopted her as one of its own.
It was only this year that Basic spoke of her Bosnian heritage at length for the first time, having never thought it was terribly interesting. She now wishes she’d mentioned it sooner, given the amount of support and interest that has flowed.
Just to be clear, though: a nationality switch is out of the question.
“They really want me to run under the Bosnian flag, and I just go ‘no, I am Australian’. But I did say I’d paint my nails blue and yellow, which are the colours of their flag. So they’ve taken that and absolutely run with it. It was on the front page in one of their newspaper articles.
“The amount of messages that I’ve received from over there, it’s just insane. They’re so happy that I recognise where I come from and where my parents are from. They’re really appreciative.’’
As is Basic, who has more clarity than ever about where she wants to go. Her initial sights are on a semi-final berth, while daring to dream of becoming Australia’s first female 100 metre Olympic finalist since the great Raelene Boyle in 1976.
“But I will have to go up—not just to the next level, the one beyond that. We will keep training for that and competing and Australia can have faith that I have put in, literally, 120 per cent… I don’t want to get bumped out in the heats.’’
Nicolosi, too, is aiming high. And far.
“There’s not really much limit to how fast she can run,’’ says the coach. “There’s certain characteristics of her performance we haven’t really touched, meaning that they’re areas for growth and improvement.
“So I’m very reticent to say where I think she can end up, and it’s a little bit of the psychology thing where I think sometimes if you tell people what they’re capable of, then that’s what they are capable of.
“Traditionally, sprinters can continue for a really long time; look at someone like Merlene Ottey. Hana can definitely be at her best for the next two Olympic cycles, so it’s whether she wants to do it, and whether she’s enjoying it, and whether she has that desire. And at the moment she definitely is saying that does.’’