(Image credit to Fred Etter)
There may have been slight disappointment that Zatopek champions Sinead Diver and Stewart McSweyn were unable to complete 5000/10,000m doubles, but what we did see at the Sydney Track Classic was the return to the top by Melissa Duncan and rise of two new distances runners, Jordan Gusman and Paige Campbell, adding to the growing depth in Australia.
The weather was not kind, although there was only a sprinkle of rain, the wind for the major of the meet was ferocious. But for the men’s 5000m, the last event on the program, the windy had eased significantly.
Sometimes it can take many years to find the right groove and in the men’s 5000m national championship Jordan Gusman finally hit the mark, as a surprise winner of the 5000m over favourite Stewart McSweyn.
“It has taken me a little while to find my feet,” Gusman reflected. “I’ve struggled in recent years to come out and have any great success, so hopefully my career with this American group has started this.” In late 2018 he made a big change in his coaching arrangement moving to the ‘Tin Men’ squad based in Colorado, and also moving his Australian training base to Melbourne with his girlfriend.
By about mid-way in the race, it was down to two – Gusman and McSewyn. Everybody seemed to be wondering – when Gusman would drop back to the main pack. But he refused to go. Refusing to follow the script, as he stuck with McSweyn.
“On the last lap I was hanging on for dear life, then I just went as hard as I could down the back straight. I was planning to go at about 250m and it helped there was a tail wind down on the back straight. I made the move and I knew if I gapped him that it was going to be a hard ask for him coming home.
“With 80m to go I could hear the commentator saying he was coming so I dug a little deeper and looked over my shoulder at 40m to go and at that point felt I had extended the lead.”
Gusman clocked 13:29.47 ahead of McSweyn 13:32.37, with Liam Adams completing the podium in 13:56.63.
“Honestly I only thought my real shot was if McSweyn was tired returning from Europe. But to run the way I did and get the win over Stewy - it is what dreams are made of and I didn’t think I could do it.”
McSweyn was gracious in defeat.
“I flew in Tuesday morning (from Birmingham) and its always tough running off the plane but Jordy was just better tonight so I have to get back to work for the world championships. I’m confident I will be ready to go later in the season.”
But did the long travel from Europe affect him?
“I try not to make excuses and if I turn up on the start line I’m ready to race. I got beat tonight, all credit to Jordy.”
Conducted nearly two hours earlier in the program, the wind was savage for the athletes running up the home straight.
“All the girls were kind of freaking out about it. And in the warm up I was saying don’t worry about it,” recalled Melissa Duncan who won in 15:29.70. That attitude undoubtedly assisted Duncan who is now certainly moving past her devastating 2016 Rio Olympic campaign which saw her withdraw with injury before the team departed.
An earlier pack of seven was narrowed to just three over the last mile as Duncan, Sinead Diver and surprisingly Paige Campbell clearly away from the field. After Diver had piloted the field for a few laps, at the bell Duncan and Campbell were away, with Duncan unstoppable taking the title in 15:29.70, ahead of Campbell 15:31.50 and Diver the bronze in 15:35.70.
The consensus was the wind had foiled a qualifying opportunity.
“We wanted to get the qualifying time and if it had not been windy we would have got it,” Duncan said.
“I’ve been training a lot, so I was ready for this. The World XC trial a couple of weeks ago was probably the biggest challenge for me. I don’t run cross country and I don’t like it, but I’m learning to like it. I’ve been training with Sinead a lot over summer and she has lifted me to another level and helped me become tougher.”
The breakthrough season for Orange-based physio student, Paige Campbell continued. The Zatopek medallist, placed second in a staggering 38 seconds PB.
“It was tough out there and the wind was really strong in the home straight, so I just tried to hold on and on for another lap and I knew if I was there at the end I’d have a chance,” Campbell said.
“It was very windy out there. Coming down that straight - oh my god. If it was calm, I think we would have got the standard today,” said Diver who was really hoping for 5000m and 10,000m world championships qualifiers this summer, ahead of the London Marathon in April.
“I’ll probably focus on the marathon training now.”
It was one of the best line-ups on the program and Annelise Rubie-Renshaw confirmed she is the premier quarter-miler in the country with a relatively comfortable win in 52.57 ahead of the Commonwealth Games team mate Bender Oboya, and 16-year-old Ellie Beer in a PB 53.41.
“I was really nervous going into this. My first 400m is always hard. So it is nice to get it out of the way and get the win is really confidence boosting,” said Rubie-Renshaw who has run just three 200s this year.
“After Commonwealth Games last year one of my biggest takeaways was I needed to be quicker, so I’ve been working on my speed and running 200s. I’ll fully focus now on the 400m, no more 800s.”
Through the Sydney Track Classic we have witnessed the development of Gregson’s great 1500m career. As a senior athlete, no Australian has defeated him here – since 2010. In 2009 he was third breaking the still standing Australian under-20 record.
The master also used the conditions to his advantage to win in 3:40.75, ahead of Rorey Hunter 3:40.90 and James Hansen 3:41.43.
“I knew it would be tough into the straight (due to the wind) so I kind of wanted to go a bit earlier just to get a jump on everyone as the straight was so tough and hard to come back from,” said Gregson who is just days off a plane from Europe where he witnessed his national indoor 1500m being broken by Stewart McSweyn.
“He deserved that, he ran a great race. It was the indoor record and I still have the outdoor record which is the main one I didn’t hold the indoor record too close to my heart. Stewey put himself on the line and ran really hard and deserved it. He can run a lot faster too. I wasn’t quite ready to compete with the rest of the world the other day but I will be in the coming months.
“As I’ve got older I’m not as good first up and it takes a few races to get going in a campaign,” explained Gregson, maybe referring to his slow start to the season including his mile loss in December.
Gregson’s well credentialled training partners Matt Ramsden and Jordy Williamsz, placed fourth and fifth respectively tonight in Sydney.
The officials set the 100m to run with the windy and the athletes enjoyed solid times. Although Trae Williams didn’t start due to a hamstring injury during the week, the favourite Jack Hale was still under pressure winning by just 0.01 seconds from teenage Kiwi Ed Nketia in 10.35 to 10.36. (1.3m/s wind).
“The boys really stepped up and it is going to be awesome in the next few weeks going into nationals,” Hale commented.
“I did kind of tighten up in that last 30 and he (Nketia) took advantage of it and had a crack and nearly got me. I was super aggressive and nailed the start which often doesn’t happen, maybe that contributed. But credit to him. Only 17-years-old we are going to see him running quick in the next few years for sure.“
Women’s 400m hurdles
Tipped to be a race between Australia’s 400m hurdles world championships qualifiers, the win across the Tasman as former heptathlete Portia Bing took the victory in a terrific time of 56.04 in the conditions.
“I’ve been concentrating on the 400m hurdles for exactly one-year, last week,” she said. “Honestly I feel like such a rookie even though I’ve been to world champs for heptathlon. The progression has come really quickly for me personally and it has been so motivating. It is a great privilege for me as I can just come across the ditch and race great athletes like Lauren (Wells).”
Bing explained the challenges and reward for athletes pursing their career goals.
“I took time off work today, my boss wasn’t happy about it. I jumped on the plane last night, came over here. I felt everything was going well and I broke the national record today. That was a big thing for me.”
Bing broke Rebecca Wardell’s national record of 56.25 from 2003.
The Aussies ran very well too, with Lauren Wells second in 56.19 and Sarah Carli third with 56.51.
Other highlights in brief:
· After placing only sixth at the Canberra Track Classic and with a quickest of just 2:04 this season, the post-race smile was back for Australia's fastest current 800m runner, Georgia Griffith, winning in 2:02.67, ahead of Carley Thomas 2:02.88.
· Nick Andrews recorded his third consecutive PB to win the 110m hurdles in 13.91, moving up 10 places on the all-time list to 17th.
· Back on home soil, the now Perth-based Angus Armstrong cleared 5.51m to take the pole vault just 1cm below his PB.
· Commonwealth Games team mates, Brooke Stratton and Naa Anang waged another terrific battle in the sand pit. Brooke took the event with a windy 6.67m from Naa's wind legal 6.57m. Brooke’s best wind legal jump was 6.63m. They continue to narrow in on the world championships long jump standard of 6.72m.
· Now establishing himself as Australia’s leading steeplechaser, Max Stevens recorded a PB of 8:36.52 – outstanding in the blustery conditions.
· Alex Hulley threw 68.15m in the hammer throw, her third best mark of her career and just below what she threw to take bronze in the Commonwealth Games.
· There was a surprise win in the 100m hurdles by in form heptathlete Celeste Mucci taking the race in a slightly wind assisted time of 13.18 (2.1m/s).
David Tarbotton for Athletics Australia