HE MAY have been the mastermind behind perhaps Australia's greatest individual sporting triumph, but Peter Fortune is just as happy discussing the progress of his many Tasmanian charges.
The ``steady stream of nationally-talented young athletes'' Fortune has helped mold during his eight years in the state might not have made as many headlines as Cathy Freeman in Sydney's Olympic Stadium 14 years ago, but they are just as dear to the wily coach's heart.
Ask the Melbourne-born 68-year-old the state of Tasmanian track and field stocks, and you're in for a marathon answer.
``The Peacocks [brothers Hamish and Huw] have long been earmarked as very talented along with Danni McConnell and Mikayla Genge, then there's Abbey de la Motte, Max Waldron and the Nicklasons [siblings Hugh and Claudia],'' he said.
``It's very encouraging to have three athletes going to the world juniors . . . sprinters Samantha Lind, Jesse Usoalii and Jacob Despard, and at the last world juniors we had even more.
``There's definitely some quite exciting talent emerging.
``Julia Minnucci is a very talented middle distance runner who I hope takes the next step. Stephanie Stigwood is a young race walker starting to get close to top national selection.
``Alice Cox is a very exciting young discus thrower in Hobart, Russell Taib's a great sprinter and there's a strong group coming out of Devonport with Deon Kenzie a world-ranked T38 1500m runner.
``James Hansen is a great example of a talented kid who lifted his workrate and has shown consistent improvement to become no.3 in Tasmanian all-time 1500m runners.
``Long jumper Jack Hale has just turned 16 but already gone well over 7m so is an exciting young talent. Matt Hosie and Sam Alderson are very promising multi-eventers who are going places and Getasew Ferguson and Biniyam Hagos are adopted Tasmanians showing a lot of ability nationally.''
Fortune, who finishes his contract as the Tasmanian Institute of Sport athletics coach on June 30, played a key role in guiding this bumper crop, working alongside and encouraging such coaches as Evan Peacock, Damien Lawler, Jy Webb, Wim Vaessen, Wayne Holt, Fay Denholm, Max O'Toole and Mike Gunson.
He said he was well aware of the state's athletic pedigree long before taking up his role after the Commonwealth Games in March 2006, following nine years at the Victorian Institute of Sport.
``I went to lots of national champs where I saw Tasmanian athletes doing quite well including long jumper Steve Knott and runners Rob Annells and Kent Rayner, and always noticed how well Tasmania would do in 4x400m relays,'' he said.
``I'd also had some contact coaching Susan Andrews when she was in Western Australia and going to the 1992 Olympics.''
Fortune admitted he wasn't convinced he wanted to move to Tasmania but saw a young demographic that could benefit from structured programs.
``The focus was to help Athletics Tasmania develop programs to encourage juniors to be serious and try and do well on the national stage, which I think we've done pretty well,'' he said.
``It will be a very positive time for the incoming person at the TIS and a good chance to revitalise the sport a bit. We're probably going through a little trough following the very good results of the last four or five years.''
Having coached athletes of the calibre of Freeman, Tamsyn Lewis, Lauren Hewitt and Nova Peris on the mainland, Fortune said Tasmania's biggest achievements during his tenure were Donna MacFarlane making the world's top-10 steeplechasers and Tristan Thomas helping Australia to a world championship relay bronze medal in 2009.
Fortune will be returning to Melbourne to join forces with Craig Mottram's former coach, Bruce Scriven, at Olympic Park.
He will resume coaching de la Motte while she is studying in the city and added: ``I also hope to keep in touch with Tasmanian contacts and return any time that might be useful.''
TIS director Paul Austen said Fortune had been an extremely valuable contributor to the institute.
``Peter not only developed and oversaw a productive track and field program that developed a number of athletes through to national representation, but he also made a significant contribution to the TIS through his nurturing and support of the other program coaches he worked alongside,'' he said.
``Having Fort around the TIS has been a real bonus for all of us and he certainly will be missed along with his very amusing anecdotes of the interesting experiences he has had over his long coaching career.''