It is now over 40 years since Australia won its last medal in an Olympic Games (OG) mens running event; that being Rick Mitchell who won a silver medal in the 400m at Moscow in 1980.
Recent results suggest Australian distance running is in an exciting renaissance phase. Three runners have stood out and recently produced Australian records on the world stage.
First came Brett Robinson in the Marugame half-marathon earlier in the year, with a winning time of 59:57. The bloke can really motor and is starting to live up to his potential. Anything under 60 minutes for a half marathon is world-class and what makes it even better is Brett is around 30 years-old – the perfect age to excel at the longer distance.
It is quicker than Rob De Castella and Steve Moneghetti ever went and they are legends of Australian running. This suggests a marathon time of under 2:07 and possibly as fast as 2:05 is within Brett’s capabilities – he could become Australia’s next great marathoner and quite possibly the greatest to date.
With the delay of the Tokyo Olympics, it gives Robinson a bit more time to get another one or two marathons into his legs before the event. With the limit of three athletes from each country (therefore only three Kenyans and three Ethiopians), the Olympics gives him the opportunity to finish inside the top ten and possibly inside the top five or even grab a medal if he has a good day and a few of the others struggle.
Obviously beating someone like Eliud Kipchoge is very unlikely, but he needs to aim high. Let’s hope we see Robinson at the London Marathon in 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 running fast and doing Australia proud.
It would also be great to see Robinson take down the Sydney City to Surf record and run under 40 minutes, I’m sure he could do it. He could target that record after the Olympics next year as a coming home party! Let’s not forget Harry Summers’ run last year at the City to Surf, his time suggests he could produce something big if he puts his mind to it.
Jessica Hull has really stepped up to the plate this year on the world stage. Jessica won multiple Australian titles as a junior and has always had the potential to run fast and appears to have now progressed into the senior ranks. Her performances during the Diamond League this year have been fantastic and have been super encouraging for her chances in Tokyo.
Jessica has a perfect running action and appears to glide across the ground and looks to do it so easily. 14:43.80 in the 5000m in Monaco was a great performance and an Australian record and she backed it up recently with an 8:36.03 in the 3000m at the Doha Diamond League event. A time of 4:00.42 in the 1500m in Berlin further suggests Hull is on an upward curve and with further natural progression, should make a big impression in Tokyo.
A medal is not impossible, she just needs to believe and concentrate on her preferred distance and the one where opportunities present. That could be in the 1500m, although keeping her options open and running the 5000m could also be under consideration.
As for Stewart McSweyn? What a year – 3:30.51 over the 1500m is well and truly moving along and is getting down to the times that will be competitive against the very best. If he can get down into the 3:27-28 bracket by next year, then he definitely is in the hunt for a medal, if not the gold. By doing so, he would cement himself as one of Australia’s greatest ever middle-distance runners.
Stewart may not yet have the kick to match his biggest rivals and therefore will need to run smart and make it an endurance test in the final of the 1500m at the Olympics. He has already lowered Craig Mottram’s Australian record over 3000m and his future is enormous. Mottram was no slouch, his African rivals didn’t call him ‘Big Mzungu’ for nothing.
The 5000m could be a tough nut to crack with the new world record holder, Joshua Cheptegei, no doubt running the 5000m and the 10000m at the Olympics (let’s not forget Mo Farah as well) but aiming high and doing your very best is what it is about.
Looking forward past the Tokyo Olympics, Jessica Hull and Stewart McSweyn look great prospects for long-distance running over the marathon distance. Jessica with her smooth, economical running style could be a great long-distance runner. Stewart has the motor and obviously the desire to keep running and the marathon distance could well be his calling. Obviously beating the Kenyans and Ethiopians is incredibly difficult over the marathon distance – they have a natural advantage living and training at altitude – but with the right mindset and training, anything is possible on a given day.
It is such a pity the monetary gain doesn’t really exist in running as it does in many other sports. Let’s face it, the top runners around the world are among the best athletes on the planet and they should be getting renumerated a bit more appropriately. In any case, running is a great pastime and, during these challenging times, running has become even more important for everyone’s physical and mental well-being.
Looking forward to seeing plenty of Robinson, Hull, McSweyn, and also of Summers in the coming years and with the right training and mindset over the next few months, the 2021 Tokyo Olympics could be a defining moment for Australian middle and long-distance running.