Athletic Blicavs happy to be running with the Cats
MARK Blicavs will be cheering on the Australian athletics team at next month's Commonwealth Games louder than most.
But he's not expecting to have itchy feet as he watches mates such as 1500m specialist Jeff Risely running around the main stadium in Glasgow - he and his feet are more than happy to be running around the major footy fields of Australia.
Blicavs was a promising middle-distance runner and steeplechaser who had dreamed of donning the green and gold singlet at the Olympics - up until two years ago anyway when he narrowly missed out on a spot on the
Australian squad for the London Olympics.
Despite a limited playing background, the Geelong Football Club had signed Blicavs as a rookie at the end of 2011, with master Cats recruiter Stephen Wells taking a punt on him because of his athletic prowess.
"It was a hard decision at the start just because I was really enjoying my running. And I was really interested to see how far I could go with it," the 23-year-old Blicavs told APN yesterday.
The Cats had allowed him to "follow the athletics path", which took him to Europe for a few months leading up to the 2012 Olympics.
But once he had been overlooked for London, he settled into his new life as a professional footballer.
"By the time I was able to stop and take a breath I was five weeks in and I hadn't thought much about running," recalled Blicavs, whose father Andris represented Australia in basketball at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. "Once I made the decision I knew there was going to be no regrets."
Having broken into the powerful Geelong line-up in round one of 2013, Blicavs has missed just two games since, making his story one of the more remarkable in the AFL in recent times, rivalling the achievements of former
Canadian rugby union international Mike Pyke (Sydney) and ex-NRL star Karmichael Hunt (Gold Coast) in switching sports at elite level.
Raised in Melbourne's north-west, Blicavs played a year in the U11s at Sunbury and then a year in U14s at Taylor's Lakes, and "always played a bit of school footy".
"I followed Carlton and the game pretty closely, but I never took it super seriously until I came to the club (Geelong)," he said.
Blicavs' running ability for a man who stands 198cm first caught the eye of AFL fans - and teammates, particularly after the 2km time trial that kicked off his first pre-season at Geelong. He ran a tick over 5mins 30secs and left the rest of the field for dead.
"I think everyone was a bit shocked at the time," he said.
Blicavs is a fraction slower now, but that is expected when you add almost 20km to your frame.
Because of injuries to a number of Cats big men last season, Blicavs initially began pinch-hitting in the ruck but would later impress streaming down the wing and is now filling a key defensive post.
"I'm loving learning every part of the game," he said. "I enjoy playing ruck and getting on the wing, you kinda feel like you're always in the game. But I'm also learning quite a bit down back - I'm starting to feel real comfortable there too.''
That's where he will be this afternoon when he mans one of Gold Coast trio Charlie Dixon, Tom Lynch or Sam Day in a crucial match at Metricon Stadium.
"They're a talented forward line," he said. "It's going to be a tough job, but we're really looking forward to it.''
Lost to the AFL
Mark Blicavs remains close with his former athletics coach Gregor Gojrzewski.
"Obviously at the start he was quite disappointed, he thought we had a good thing going and something we thought we could have built on," Blicavs explained.
"But these things happen, and he understood I wasn't leaving him for another coach I was actually changing sports altogether. We left on good terms... but he's an Essendon supporter so I'm slowly trying to get him over to the Cats.
Unfortunately for Gojrzewski, another member of his running stable Johnny Rayner, has also crossed to AFL, signed last year by the Bombers as a rookie.
"Gregor copped a bit of a double whack there," Blicavs said.