As a child, Olympic high jumper Brandon Starc’s life was consumed by sport, and while the weekends throughout his adolescence revolved around competitive ten pin bowling, dancing, table tennis, cricket, soccer, and Little Athletics there was a purpose that underpinned the training and travelling to venues far from home.

Sport was a healthy vehicle which re-enforced his parents’ messages to their children about the importance of rolling up their sleeves and working hard. Indeed, the value of ‘hard work’ is a constant theme throughout Starc’s narrative.

“Yeah. every week . . . weekends . . . during the week, was full of either training or going to games or competitions,” recalled Starc in his five-part NSWIS Lights Up documentary series. “And so, that’s pretty much from as far back as my memory goes – it was just full of sport.”

“My family have kind of taught me to work hard, you know, put your head down and do the work. Hard work is kind of pushed into, I guess, my life away from the track and I guess kind of keeping that going to anything that I put my mind to . . .  to keep that hard work going.”

Starc’s first passion was football, and as a young boy he dreamt of emulating his childhood hero, Tim Cahill by playing in the Socceroos battle colours and scoring incredible goals. However, he soon found a source of inspiration much closer to hand, his brother Mitchell, who was four years older than him and making an indelible mark on the cricket field.

“Mitchell played a big role in being an inspiration for me because he was very successful as a young athlete as I grew up,” said Starc of his brother who has taken 358 Test wickets for Australia and won three world cups. “He’s been there, done that, and that was something to aspire to.

“I think having an older brother . . . I guess . . . to witness the hard work and dedication that he’s had in his sport has taught me a lot. Mitchell’s been a huge influence, and to have someone so close to you in the position that he was and be very, very successful for a long, long time, I think it just put him in a great spot to be that person for me to look to, to aspire to follow that path.

“I was there, firsthand, seeing how hard he worked and the dedication he had for cricket. And it was something that I can take to my own career, and, I guess, always follow in those footsteps. It’s great.”

Mitchell Starc bowls during day one of the Men’s Third Test Match in the series between Australia and Pakistan at Sydney Cricket Ground, 2024

After being accepted to the Hills Sports High School in Seven Hills – where he was placed in the athletics program and not his preference, soccer – Starc threw his slight frame into hurdles, long jump, triple jump, and high jump in which, as a 15-year-old, he’d recorded a PB of 188cm. The school’s athletics coordinator, Nicole Watson, suggested he train with an emerging coach, Alex Stewart.

“I was this little skinny kid that turned up and didn’t really have any path or plan,” recalled Starc. “And he just kind of thought, ‘alright, let’s just teach him the basics and see where we can go with that’

They clicked, and 18 months later 16-year-old Starc gave a glimpse of what he was capable of when he snared the silver medal at the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics after clearing an impressive 2.19. It was the beginning of a winning partnership.

“I think that moment for both of us was kind of the ‘aha’ moment of, ‘okay, let’s give this a go. Let’s see where we can take this sort of thing,’” said Starc of his mentor (photographed below). “And yeah, 2009 to now, we’re still together and shared some success.” 

“[Alex is] the guy that’s, you know, backing you because he’s the guy that you’re going to after every jump and he’s just always, you know, ‘you’ve got this just think it’s simple things’ . . .  whatever that may be on the day. But he’s always got your back and always, always got your best interests.”

And while Starc has won a Commonwealth Games gold and silver medal, finished in the top eight at two world championships and won a Diamond League final, the 30-year-old said he has even more reason to perform now he’s a family man. Starc said whenever he catches sight of his wife Laura and son Oliver sitting in the crowd it makes him feel even more determined.

“That’s kind of changed my life, being a dad,” he said. “And I wouldn’t change it for the world. We love it . . . I guess it’s just changed a little bit of perspective. I’m not doing it just for me anymore, it’s very much for them to.

“That’s a little reminder when I see them in the crowd that, you know, I guess [I’ve] got to dig a little deeper.”

And Starc acknowledges high jump can be a cruel pursuit, citing his performance at the Tokyo Olympic Games as an example of how torturous falling short by one or two centimetres can be.

“Tokyo – mixed emotions,” he said when asked about his fifth place. “You know, I jumped very well. Everyone else did, too.

“I’m very proud of that performance. Look, overall, I’m very happy with coming fifth. Would have medalled at all but two – I think Olympics – in history. So, it’s just evident of how good the field was because gold was only two centimetres higher than me.”

Brandon Starc during the Men’s High Jump Final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Starc said that while he has reassessed his goals over the years, there is one which, 14 years after seizing the silver medal at the Singapore Youth Olympics, remains unchanged.

“Look, that’s, that’s the main driving force,” he said. “You know, you make goals when you’re younger and you reassess each year, but that Olympic gold is has remained over the years.

I’m backing myself all the way.”

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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