Stewart McSweyn capped a hugely successful 2019 with a win at the annual Zatopek 10,000m in Melbourne on Saturday night (14), completing a hat-trick of victories in the classic race.
Genevieve Gregson (nee Lacaze) took the women’s race, the world steeplechase finalist making a winning debut at the 25-lap distance.
The Zatopek races served as the Australian Championships over the longest track distance with both champions awarded medals commemorating Ron Clarke, who won the race five times, setting world records for six miles and 10,000m in 1963.
But it was McSweyn who garnered the superlatives. Among the significant statistics relating to his winning performance of 27:23.80, it was:
- a personal best by almost 30 seconds (previously 27:50.89 in winning last year’s race);
- the second-fastest winning time in the Zatopek race’s 59-year history, behind only Luke Kipkosgei’s men’s race record 27:22.54;
- an Oceanian record (previously held by Ben St Lawrence at 27:24.95);
- an Olympic qualifier and automatic nomination to the Olympic team as national champion;
- the first time for 23 years an Australian men’s record at 10,000m has been set on home soil (previously 27:31.92 by Shaun Creighton at the 1996 Zatopek);
- a third win in succession for McSweyn, putting him behind only Clarke (five), and Kipkosgei, Steve Moneghetti and Andrew Lloyd (four each).
Most significantly, the win capped a year which has earlier seen McSweyn move to second on the Australian all-time list at 1500m (3:31.81 behind Ryan Gregson’s national record of 3:31.06) and double at the 5000m and 1500m at the World Championships in Doha, reaching the final of the longer event and the semi-finals of the shorter one.
Patrick Tiernan took second place in 27:31.20, making it the third time in the past four years the pair have gone 1-2. Tiernan won in 2016, McSweyn reversed the order the following year and has now claimed a second win over his friendly rival.
McSweyn had more reason to thank Tiernan than just giving him a good race. The pair had been touted as the two to watch in pre-race speculation but once Brett Robinson and Jordan Williamsz had shared leading duties through the first 11-and-a-half laps, it was the stronger Tiernan who did all the leading.
After going through the half-way point in a tick over 13:45, Tiernan made sure the tempo stayed at a metronomic 66 seconds per lap – 2:46 for the seventh kilometre, 2:46 again for the eighth and 2:45 for the ninth.
At this stage the duo were on course for a time of 27:30 but another surge by Tiernan took the next lap down to 64 seconds, bringing the Tokyo qualifier and the area record both into play.
Tiernan still led coming up to the bell, but he had no answer to McSweyn’s final lap of about 56 seconds. With the win, the area record and the qualifier, McSweyn took the chocolates while Tiernan, just outside both his personal best and the Olympic standard, had to settle for the boiled lollies. He already has a qualifier at 5000 metres (as does McSweyn), and hopefully there will be tastier treats to come at 10,000.
Jack Bruce finished third in 28:15.94 while, on the night his national record went down, 38-year-old St Lawrence finished a more than creditable sixth in 28:19.60.
The women’s race started much more cautiously than the men’s, possibly because Australia’s two World Championships representatives, Ellie Pashley and Sinead Diver, were not in the field, both having run last month’s New York Marathon. Gregson, making her debut at 10,000m, was understandably feeling her way into the race.
After a first half of 16:57, Australian cross-country champion Emily Brichacek moved to the lead and the pace finally quickened. Try as she might, though, Brichacek was unable to dislodge either Gregson or Canada’s world 5000m finalist Andrea Seccafien.
The pair moved past Brichacek soon after the start of the final lap. The first two places were settled then, but the order remained in doubt until Gregson finally got the upper hand decisively in the last 50 metres. The Olympic finalist at both the steeplechase and 5000m made her 10,000m debut a winning one, crossing the line a few steps clear of Seccafien, 32:47.83 to 32:48.30.
Brichacek, like Tiernan, got scant reward for her hard work, finishing third some 10 seconds behind the winner.
With Melbourne’s main stadium at Albert Park closed for resurfacing, the meeting was held at Melbourne’s Box Hill track in near-perfect conditions on a warm and mostly still night.
Len Johnson for World Athletics