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Malta with best ever team for a GSSE, says technical director Mario Bonello

Athletics is one of the disciplines from which participating countries can win a good portion of medals and Team Malta is heading into the 2023 edition with renewed optimism of tasting great success in track and field competitions.

Athletics Malta has been working hard in the past three years to build a competitive group of athletes that would not only delight the home crowd at the upcoming GSSE but more importantly set their sights on success in more prestigious competitions.

Mario Bonello, Athletics Malta technical director, said that the preparation process adopted this time was different to what the governing body used to do in the past.

“Our approach for this year’s Games has been quite different to the past,” Bonello said.

“In 2020 AM decided to set up a technical committee, headed by myself as Technical Director and Kevin Galea as my assistant, which was tasked with the preparation of the Athletics team for the 2023 GSSE.

“Such an approach was a first, as never did Malta have a national team selection that would be followed over a relatively lengthy period, with previous selections only called in the immediate period prior to major events.

“A national team consultant, Antonio Laguardia, who previously headed the Italian athletics team for Beijing Olympic Games, was also roped in and tasked to identify weaknesses, propose a strategy for development and identify other specialists for a number of specific events. 

“We analysed some of our best athletes and through this analysis and scientific testing tried to identify the athletes who could potentially make it to the Games in 2023. We pulled in a number of local coaches to set up the event group coaches with the aim of assisting them to improve their knowledge and experience, which was to be one of the legacies of the Games.

“Our coaches were in fact sent to a number of international conferences and training camps with some of the leading coaches in their chosen events.”

Bonello said that technical team at Athletics Malta went into a lot of detail, identifying which athletes had the potential to blossom over a three-year period.

“We identified the most significant areas in which our athletes required attention,” Bonello said.

“On the field of play, this was almost always the technical elements, since most of our athletes were already used to train regularly and with consistent volumes of work. The input from our consultants was very regular and the technical element improved considerably across the board.

“We also identified a number of young athletes whom our testing showed would improve significantly over the three-year period and started to work with them as well. These were Jeremy Zammit, Matthew Galea Soler, Graham Pellegrini and Thea Parnis Coleiro, all of whom have already had their share of exceptional results over the past two years.

“Finally, we have also a number of Maltese athlete who live and train abroad, whom we identified, assisted and followed closely over the past years.

“One also cannot but mention the work done hand in hand with SportMalta in the upgrading of the Marsa Track facility so that now we have a state-of-the-art training venue, with all the necessary amenities, where we can hold massage therapy sessions, ice baths, strength and conditioning  at our own facility.”

Bonello said that by holding regular training camps for different event groups at the CONI centre in Formia, could provide entire weeks of focus for the Maltese athletes.

“For these camps, the local coaches of the individual athletes were also invited to attend so that they could then carry through with their experiences when coaching in Malta,” Bonello said.

“We actually had almost a training camp every five weeks, which is not only a lot of work, but which has left a great impact on our coaches.”

For Bonello, who enjoyed great success as a sprinter during his career that spanned over two decades, said that this national team was the strongest he has ever seen.

“In over three decades that have been involved in the sport, both as an athlete and as a coach, we have never had such a strong team in all events,” he remarked.

“Over the past two years we have already managed to break 15 of the standard 40 track and field open records and I am sure that more will fall by the end of this season.

“That is a lot of progress and the standard our athletes are attaining is now qualifying them directly to major athletics events, not to mention the fifth place and seventh place by Jeremy Zammit at the European and World U-20 championships, the first ever medal at the EYOF by Matthew Galea Soler, and now outright qualification for the U-20 European Championships by Jeremy Zammit and Graham Pellegrini and U-23 by Beppe Grillo.

“Of course, one has to mention the exceptional standard also reached by Jared Micallef, Janet Richard, Claire Azzopardi, Rebecca Saré, Carla Scicluna, Jordan Gusman, Gina McNamara and others.

“A more encouraging note is the fact that our team is extremely young and we can continue building over the coming years.”

Bonello said that the record funding received for the athletes’ technical preparation was a crucial factor behind this sudden improvement in performances.

“Having such a tightly-knit group, our athletes are pushing each other. I am seeing a group of athletes who will produce the goods in the years to come,” Bonello said.

“Needless to say, that all this progress has only been possible though the investment done by Government though SportMalta and NDSF and strongly supported by the Maltese Olympic Committee.

“Without this funding, and unless this is sustained, our efforts over the past three years would soon fizzle out.

“However, I strongly believe that our performances over the past two years have went to prove that such results are only possible with the right investment and the adequate technical preparation, very different from the winning-by-chance approach we had in the past.”

Bonello said that the long-term goal of the association remains that to see athletes shine on bigger stages.

“Of course the GSSE are important Games for Malta, but more needs to be done to mirror that on the bigger stage,” Bonello said.

“Notwithstanding this, we have already had exceptional results with our young upcoming athletes, who are still, not only showing continuous progress, but are now also qualifying for major international events.

“These results are also attracting more young talent to our sport and this is the legacy that the major investment done by government over the past years in the infrastructure and technical preparation will surely leave.”

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