Stepping out of the immense shadow cast by Anna Meares would seem a daunting task, but not to Steph Morton.
Morton, who successfully defended her Commonwealth Games crown in the women’s sprint on Friday night in the Brisbane venue named in honour of two-time Olympic gold medallist Meares, is not being disrespectful.
Instead it is because to Morton, now one of the established stars of track cycling, Meares is simply … well, just “Mearesy”.
“She’s the most decorated female track cyclist there is but we always just think of her as Mearesy,” giggled Morton, who received her gold medal in Brisbane from Meares herself.
“We’ve played Uno and tons of board game nights, so sometimes you actually have think, ‘Oh yeah, she’s actually really famous’.”
The down-to-earth nature of Meares, an 11-time world champion, is not the only reason Morton is put at ease when it comes to fulfilling the duty of continuing Australia’s strong tradition in the women’s sprint.
Nor is the fact she claimed Meares’ scalp in the sprint final at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, before they later teamed up to finish fourth in the team sprint at the Rio Olympics.
It is the results the 27-year-old has been putting on the track recently, such as her decisive victory over New Zealand’s Natasha Hansen to win Commonwealth Games gold, that have given her the confidence her career could reach some of the same heights as Meares achieved.
Morton won her second consecutive silver medal in the sprint at the world championships in Apeldoorn at the beginning of March, finishing runner-up to Olympic gold medallist Kristina Vogel.
The German Vogel, who also beat Morton in the 2017 final in Hong Kong, is a four-time world champion but the South Australian showed she is closing the gap on her revered opponent by winning the second of their best-of-three races in last month’s decider.
That performance has given Morton the self-belief that a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is not out of the question.
“I’m just going to keep chipping away … that’s what we’re looking for, little gains,” she said.
“Because really in two years in Tokyo we have to get it right.”
Morton’s drive makes her a ‘quality person’
Matthew Glaetzer, the current men’s world champion in the sprint, won gold in the keirin at the Commonwealth Games on Friday night not long after Morton had posted her victory.
Glaetzer was inspired by Morton’s win, even though it involved acting on some friendly rivalry.
“We always have a competition to see who can one up each other,” Glaetzer said.
“So, when she won the sprint I was like, ‘Okay, she’s thrown down the challenge now I have to win the keirin’.
“It’s a good little competition we have. She’s such a quality person.”
Morton now has two gold medals from the 2018 Commonwealth Games, having also won the women’s team sprint with Kaarle McCulloch, while the 500 metres time trial and keirin remain on her program.
Wins in the time trial and keirin would see her equal Meares with five career Commonwealth Games titles, another indication of her sprinting prowess.
No doubt “Mearesy” will be on hand to offer congratulations, just like she was on Friday night, giving Morton more encouragement she can fill the shoes of arguably Australia’s greatest track cyclist.
“She’s only a phone call away for us sprint girls and I think that is really good for the progression of female sprinting in Australia,” Morton said.