Former sprinter Matt Shirvington replaced the high-paced life on the track for the cut and thrust of live TV broadcasting. The Olympian and world champs medallist tells us about presenting the Fox Sports Super Saturday show in his native Australia.

He may jokingly describe himself as “Gary Lineker without the career” but Matt Shirvington has in more in common with the ex-English footballer turned broadcaster than he is prepared to admit, having transformed himself from Aussie sprint icon into super-smooth TV anchor.

Each week of the NRL season, the 2001 world 4x100m bronze medallist is beamed into millions of Australian homes to present three live games of rugby league for the hugely popular Super Saturday show.

It is Shirvo’s job to bring the action to life and prompt the best out of his panel of experts around him for the entirety of the broadcasts, which can last up to a gruelling nine hours.

An accident waiting to happen

His TV career started came about by luck rather than design. An untimely bout of glandular fever ruled him out of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games when “out of the blue” he was offered the chance present on science show Beyond Tomorrow.

He travelled the world with the show, successfully presenting 45 episodes. After retiring from athletics in 2008, he was asked to come join Fox Sports to help out on their coverage of the Beijing and later the London Olympics. He also spent some time in the newsroom before being given the role as Super Saturday anchor in 2013.

Yet Shirvington, who at the time had a successful fitness and elite coaching business, insists a career in TV was never something he thought of pursuing.

“Even after I finished athletics, I didn’t think TV was a pathway for me,” he explains. “But I’d obviously done enough in Beyond Tomorrow to earmark me to do something for Fox Sports. Over time TV presented greater opportunities and I have grabbed it with both hands.”

Unknown territories

Not that the father-of-two believes his journey into live TV broadcasting has been easy. He describes his first season as Super Saturday anchor as “woeful” and “clumsy.” It has been a far from easy switch from track titan to broadcasting big shot.

“The hardest thing has been motivating the brain in the same way I motivated the body when training for athletics,” he explains frankly. “For someone who was on the Australian team for 12 years, I didn’t harness my brain power regularly enough and it was a really hard transition.”

Yet applying the same principles he learned from Tom Tellez, coach to nine-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis, that the more starts you do the better you get, he believes over time with more practise his broadcasting skills have improved.  

Know your numbers

Rugby League – a hugely popular sport in Australia – he insists is “a numbers and a stats game”.

Shirvington, a rugby league player in his youth, spends hours researching – what he terms as “putting money in the bank” – in the same way he prepared for his 100m competitive season by pounding out the training reps. As well all know it's not the size of your stats but how you use them; the 36-year-old believes he has become smarter by using the stats more sparingly.

“When I started presenting I felt all the info I had needed to be regurgitated, and that’s where I fell down,” he says. “What I needed to do was to hone and sharpen those stats. Now I read and look at key stats and I use that info.”

Practice, practice, practice

As his preparation has improved, Shirvington believes he has grown into his role as a live TV anchor. But he has found one area of working in live TV very different to life on the track.

“As an athlete every microscopic detail is dwelled upon and I was accustomed to constant feedback,” he explains. “As a TV presenter you don’t get that level of feedback unless you make a significant mistake. The input is not as great and in some ways I have become my own coach.”

Yet the former Australian 100m champion is insistent life as a broadcaster is “very tough”, and he has little doubt that life competing as an athlete at an Olympic Games is far easier.

“As an athlete I would spend the first week of a Games just chilling and focusing on training, but as most of the work had already been done it was not too challenging. By comparison, as a broadcaster, working 20-hour days for 20 days straight at an Olympics by the end I was shattered. I was gone.”

Shirvo’s top three

Which player in rugby league player would make the best sprinter?

Two in the game really stand out. One is James Roberts, the winger for the Gold Coast Titans. He has great acceleration and his straight line speed is one of the best.

The other would be Fiji-born Melbourne Storm winger Marika Koroibete. He’s naturally fast, with a big upper body and has those high sprinter calves. He has the barrel chest of Linford Christie [1992 Olympic 100m champion] and the legs of Donovan Bailey [1996 Olympic 100m champion].

Which track and field would make the best convert to rugby league?

Mark Lewis-Francis [2004 Olympic 4x100m champion] would make a good winger and would represent a pretty hairy confrontation because he is solidly built and would be hard to tackle. I also know Walter Dix [2008 Olympic 100m and 200m bronze medallist] has run a blistering 40m time and he would go very well. 

If you could pick any one athlete with the potential to be a quality broadcaster, who would it be and why?

Greg Rutherford. I do a bit of media training and I’ve often gravitated to some of his interviews. He seems very comfortable in his own skin.