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.
This year Australia has two reasonable chances to medal in the mens 1500m with Stewart McSweyn and Oliver Hoare.
On 9 July 2021, McSweyn ran the fourth fastest time in the world this year with the Australian record of 3:29.51, eight days after he ran the Australian mile record of 3:48.37 when winning at the Bislett Diamond League meeting.
McSweyn has been a regular on the Diamond League circuit winning three races since 2018 and placing high in many other races in the sport’s major international circuit.
He currently leads the points standings for the Diamond League 1500m.
Oliver Hoare, who won the NCAA title in 2018 beating a good field which included Great Britain’s Josh Kerr (so far 5th fastest in the world 2021), came into OG medal calculations after winning the 1500m at the 2021 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in a time of 3:32.35 (last 300m 41.67).
Hoare and McSweyn have only met once where they finished second and third respectively in a May 2021 Diamond League 1500m race at Gateshead in cold and wet conditions.
Of course, having the potential to run fast in a one off 1500m race is one thing. Carrying it out in a major championship is another.
Many global championships 1500m finals are indeed run at a slower pace when compared to Diamond League races which are often set up for fast times through pacemakers.
With the OG 1500m record set in 2000 by Noah Ngeny (Kenya) with 3:32.07, the 2016 OG 1500m was won by Matthew Centrowitz, Jr (US) in a very slow 3:50.00.
The Japanese National Flag over the Olympic Rings symbol is seen at the entrance of the Japan Olympic Museum in Shinjuku. (Photo by Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Hence, the type of pace and necessary preliminary races to qualify for the final may suit one of the Australians more than the other, as well as some of their rivals.
Second, world rankings can matter little when it comes to a global championship.
The 2016 1500m winner Matthew Centrowitz was ranked 20th in 2016 on times with 3:34.09, and 12th in 2015 when running 3:30.40 in the 2015 Monoco Diamond League meeting.
The 2016 1500m bronze medal winner Nick Willis (New Zealand) also ranked just 23rd in 2016 on times with 3:34.29, although ranking 5th in 2015 when running 3:29.66 at the Monoco Diamond League meeting.
While the chances of McSweyn and Hoare are enhanced by Kenya’s 1,500m world champion Timothy Cheruiyot not going to Tokyo after he finished fourth at Kenya’ OG trials, there will be many other runners who also have a chance to medal.
Beyond the Kenyans, Ethiopians, British and Americans, there is Spain’s Mohamed Katir and Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen who both beat McSweyn home in the Monaco Diamond league race when all three finished behind Timothy Cheruiyot with his 2021 fastest time of 3:28.28 in a race that set eight of the nine fastest times of the year so far.
But whether McSweyn and Hoare medal or not, it will be quite an achievement for them to reach the final, as it would also be for the third Australian OG representative Jye Edwards who ran a personal best of 3:33.23 in the 2021 Monaco Diamond League event.
After all, since Herb Elliott’s 1500m gold medal in 1960, Australia has only had two finalists in the mens 1500m final: Graham Crouch 8th in 1976 and Ryan Gregson 9th 2016.
Whether Australia medals or not, I hope Australians will watch and appreciate whatever performance our Australian 1500m runners produce given that making the OG final is still an excellent achievement in such a competitive global sport.
With female athletes making up a record 53.5 per cent (254 of 472) of the Australian Olympic team for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, I was interested to see how fair the selection criteria was for Australia’s athletics squad given that the 63-strong athletics team also comprises 35 women and 28 men.
Given how competitive track is, with athletes from both the developing and developed nations vying for medals and income generated from competitions and sponsorship, today it is even more difficult for Australians to win global medals of any colour.