By PAUL CHAMBERS
LOOK out Craig Mottram, Paul Hoffman is aiming to overtake you on the finishing straight to secure a berth in the Australian Commonwealth Games track and field team next year.
Hoffman, who lives at Urunga, is a former Bellingen High School student who has improved his performances and times in his pet event, the 1500m, over the past four years to the stage where he is now a real contender for Melbourne. The 23-year old student has slashed a dramatic 20 seconds off his personal best (PB) time over the past four years, to be ranked fourth fastest in Australia with a time of 3 minutes 39.63 seconds.
He credits this huge improvement to an athletics scholarship to Idaho State University, in the Rockies in the United States.
The scholarship means that Hoffman can study and run free of charge with all his educational and athletics costs covered within the program, the great bonus being that he will be one of the few students who will be able to leave University not owing a cent.
But it his running which has derived the biggest benefit.
Improving his times by such a huge margin over such a distance is great credit to his ability and also to his hard work and dedication on the training track.
He ran his best time in the qualifying rounds of the National Collegiate Athletics Association championship in the States and went on to finish a highly credible 10th overall.
To emphasise the scale of this achievement, the competition was open to every athletics student in that event in the US, so to finish 10th is some going.
What does Hoffman credit his progress to?
"My coach, Brian Janssen, deserves all the credit really," Hoffman said modestly.
"He is an amazing coach who picks up sort of average athletes and within four years turns them into quality ones."
And what about his ambitions in the short and long term?
"I have got one more year left at Idaho and in that time I want to knock another two seconds off my PB," he said.
"If I can do that then I will achieve the Commonwealth Games qualifying standard and be able to run really well in the trials.
"Then at the trials I want to finish in the top two and get under the standard again to ensure I get selected for the team, which would be an awesome thing."
And what about the next Olympics?
"It's a realistic dream for sure, if all goes well for the Commonwealths and I manage to achieve my goal of getting into that team then the next step would be the worlds and then the big one, the Olympics," he enthused.
"It would be huge if I could, but I know if I keep improving at my current rate then I will give myself every opportunity of realising my dreams."