Kooka-miner: Digging for gold instead of coal
FEW modern sportsmen can relate the forces that drove Bodyline enforcer Harold Larwood but Australian hockey's Coalmine Kid gets it because he's lived it.
Lachlan Sharp, 20, steps out for the Kookaburras against England in Friday's semi-final knowing whatever challenges await him won't be as rugged as working deep down a coal mine in Lithgow, a job he put on hold to chase Games glory.
Larwood, the fast bowler who famously tormented Don Bradman, was a Yorkshire coalminer who once said "life underground is so challenging it conditions you for life above it because you know whatever happens has to be easier.''
Sharp agrees: "He's right - I know exactly what he is saying,'' Sharp said. "They are hard conditions.
"It is very challenging. Uneven, dusty, very loud … things can get very hot once they are cutting coal.
"You carry weight with things like gumboots, a hard hat on your head working in the mud. It can get pretty hard.''
Just as Larwood used to occupy his mind below the ground by bowling phantom deliveries Sharp admits "I do find my mind starts thinking of what I want to achieve at training that day.''
Coal-mining is just the start of Sharp's challenges.
Before moving to Perth over Christmas he and his father would drive from Lithgow to Sydney and back three times a week for three years for training, often exhausted after an eight-hour shift on a day which would start at 6am and finish at 10pm.
"I'm not sure of how many hours we have done but it's a lot. Two hours there, two hours back three times a week," Sharp said.
"It does get to you after a while but it's all been worthwhile and this is a dream for me. I am loving it.''
Sharp has been carrying a hip injury this tournament and has limited minutes but is expected to be given more exposure in the semi-final.
Australia thinks enough of him to give him the cherished No 1 shirt which was vacated by the country's greatest player, Jamie Dwyer.
"The coach actually gave me the number one," Sharp said.
"I did not choose it myself. To be wearing the number one is very honourable and you have to respect what has gone before you.''
Australia have won all five men's hockey gold medals throughout Games history and are hot favourites to do so again in what would be a fitting farewell for their captain Mark Knowles.
Knowles retires after the Games and starts a new job mentoring athletes at the Queensland Academy of Sport, promising to turn up for work at 9am Monday.