Beki Smith (NSW) and Dane Bird-Smith (Qld) have been crowned Australian 20km Race Walking Champions for 2018, winning the women’s and men’s events in Adelaide on Sunday morning in perfect conditions.
Smith made her move on rivals Jemima Montag (Vic) and Claire Tallent (SA) in the final kilometres to cross the finish line in 1:31:26, a good four-and-a-half minutes clear of the Commonwealth Games qualifying mark. The win also gives Smith the Oceania title.
The three started to break clear of the pack at the halfway mark and with eight kilometres remaining, Tallent trailed by a few seconds. Smith switched on the afterburners on the final loop of the Memorial Avenue course to drop Montag with the 19-year-old coming in as runner-up, three seconds in arrears is set to make her Commonwealth Games debut in her first season in the open ranks.
“It’s such a relief,” said Smith, clearly pleased with the result. “There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. I’m a bit emotional. It’s really something that I’ve wanted for a long time so it’s super exciting.
“It’s not just me who puts in the effort, it’s my hubby at home – a man who has sacrificed so much so I could do this, so to win today and confirm my spot on the Commonwealth Games team is payback for them.”
Smith narrowly missed selection for the 2016 Olympic Games and so a Gold Coast Commonwealth Games this year was a definite motivator to continue her career.
“There’s such a lot of depth in women’s walking at the moment,” Smith said. “It makes us stronger – the same thing happened in 2016 with Rio. I learned a hard lesson then in missing out so to be able to bounce back and to be able to come away with the win today makes it so much nicer.
“It’s my first Commonwealth Games team and to be able to compete here at home just makes it so much more motivating and that much more special. My father-in-law said to me yesterday afternoon that ‘you’d better win, we’ve booked our tickets to the Gold Coast,’ so there’s a lot of pressure but I thrive on that and it encourages me to perform at my best.”
In the men’s event, Bird-Smith was the first Australian over the finish line in fifth, with Perseus Karlstrom (Swe) first after 1:20:30.50, followed by Marius Liukus (Ltu) and Yerko Cortes (Chi). New Zealand’s Quentin Rew claimed the Oceania title with his fourth place finish.
Michael Hosking (Vic) secured his spot on the Commonwealth Games team, finishing in sixth place in 1:23:10, 50 seconds within the qualifying mark and in a new personal best time. He will make his Commonwealth Games debut aged 32.
Rydian Cowley (Vic), with two qualifiers already in the bag, was third-placed Australian in 10th place, 4min24sec behind Karlstrom.
Merely being on the start-line was solace for Bird-Smith having developed a cold during his travel to Adelaide.
“Today was definitely not great,” the Rio Olympic bronze medalist explained. “I got off the plane on Friday crook as. I’ve just been trying to break the fever overnight. It’s one of those things where if you don’t race, you’re possibly out of contention for a Commonwealth Games so you’ve just got to push through with whatever you’ve got. Today I had nothing there but just enough to scrape over as first Aussie, but it was a pretty shocking race.
“Looking back on it, it’s one of those things I’ll laugh about later but everything hurts,” he continued. “I’ve just pushed through the worst flu and pain barrier, so I’ve got to be happy with that in the least.”
Early leader, Canada’s Evan Dunfee was forced to withdraw from the race due to hamstring issues. Karlstrom made his move at the halfway mark, with Liukas and Bird-Smith following closely behind. The gap to Bird-Smith had opened to 30seconds by the 14km mark, with Karlstrom and Liukas solidifying their lead over the final kilometres.
Bird-Smith, who resides on the Gold Coast said he was looking forward to the opportunity to compete in his own backyard come April, hopefully much healthier than he was today.
“It’s going to be awesome,” he said. “I wasn’t able to show the form that I was in today. Coming in and the shape that I had and the form that I was in I should be back down under the 1:20s but my muscles all cramped up on me. I’ll be able to show what I’m made of when the Commonwealth Games comes around.
“I’m looking forward to the Commonwealth Games, it will be the highlight of the year, I’m sure. I’ll be racing a hell of a lot better than I did today.”
Declan Tingay (WA) won the men’s under-20 10km event in 42:37.00 ahead of Kyle Swan (Vic) and Mitchell Baker (ACT). Katie Haywood (Qld) was first across the line in the women’s under-20 10km event in 45:57.00 ahead of Rebecca Henderson (Vic) and Anna Cross (SA).
Full results are available here.