Australian distance runner Rose Davies (© Getty Images)
When the 2020 Zatopek 10 should have been run last December, Rose Davies was stuck on the wrong side of the Victoria-New South Wales border, with her chances of even getting to the race rapidly diminishing.
The border was closed due to the travel restrictions imposed to combat Covid-19 outbreaks. When the border re-opened – for what turned out to be just a few weeks – Davies dashed across into Victoria.
It was a timely seizing of an opportunity. Had Davies gambled on the border’s staying open, she would most likely have missed out.
While you see a chance, take it. The same attitude took Davies to victory in the women’s Zatopek race and a national title on Tuesday (26), with a huge improvement on her previous best.
With four laps to go in the women’s race – which for the first time in 60 editions of the famous race was afforded top-of-the meeting billing – defending champion Genevieve Gregson dropped off the leading group as Davies and Isobel Batt-Doyle pushed into the lead. Then, down the back straight for the second last time, 2019 runner-up Andrea Seccafien of Canada surged strongly into the lead.
Seccafien was rewarded, too, with an improvement of just over a minute on her previous best. But 31:45.95 took the world 5000m finalist into third place only.
Instead, Davies, seizing one final opportunity, charged through on the inside of Batt-Doyle as the pair approached the final 200 metres to run away to victory in 31:39.97 from Batt-Doyle’s 31:43.26. The two took first and second place in the Australian Championship with Gregson, fourth in 32:06.32, taking third.
Davies, who turned 21 last month, was delighted with her performance. “I knew I was in good form,” she said, “I just needed the opportunity to run fast.” She got it. She took it.
Davies is coached in Newcastle by former Australian marathon representative Scott Westcott, who also coached Celia Sullohern, winner of the 2017 Zatopek. Davies was at a team training camp at Perisher, near Mt Kosciuszko, when the border closed, then opened, then closed again.
“We made a quick dash across the border and stayed in Bendigo with Andrew Buchanan,” she said after her victory. Buchanan is a two-time Australian cross-country champion who is also coached by Westcott.
“I knew it would be quick,” Davies said of her tactics. “The plan was to go with the pace as long as I could and if I was still there with two to go, hang tough.” It worked a treat: as the ambitious plan to chase the Olympic qualifying time fell behind schedule, Davies and Batt-Doyle were ideally placed.
Brett Robinson won the men’s race – his second Zatopek victory – in 28:00.25, but the other highlight of a largely middle and long-distance program was Linden Hall’s all-the way victory in the women’s 1500m.
Hall, who lost her national record to Jessica Hull last year, took complete control after Catriona Bisset had taken the field through the first 800 metres, and won as she liked in 4:04.33. Not quite as she liked, actually: Hall was just outside the Olympic standard of 4:04.20.
“I’m happy,” Hall said. “It’s my first 1500 since March (2020) and to do that in January is awesome.
Hall said she knew she might have to run solo. “I’ve been doing it on my own through lock-down, so I was very much prepared that I might have to do that.”
Jenny Blundell, a 2016 Olympic representative along with Hall, finished second in 4:07.71, with Keely Small third in 4:07.89.
In the men’s 1500m Jordan Williamsz got one up on training partner Ryan Gregson with a 3:39.59 to 3:39.85 victory. Again, both athletes were more than satisfied with those times in their first races of the season, but maybe Williamsz had the slightly wider smile.
“I was hoping for a little faster,” he said, “but any time you beat ‘Greggo’ you’ve got to be happy.”
Bisset, who broke Charlene Rendina’s long-standing national 800m record two years ago, earlier won the 800m in 2:02.75, just over a second ahead of Brittany Kaan (nee McGowan). In the men’s 800m, the veteran of the field, Jeff Riseley, got the better of the youngest man in it, Jack Lunn, in 1:48.11. Lachlan Raper just pipped Lunn for second, 1:49.07 to 1:49.08.
Performances in the 800m races were impacted by a stiff headwind in the home straight.
Stewart McSweyn beat Patrick Tiernan in the 2019 men’s Zatopek, running 27:23.80 for a new national record. Tiernan took the record back at the start of December 2020 with a 27:22.55.
With neither of those two running, the race looked wide open. Robinson, who broke the one-hour mark in a national record half-marathon last year, loomed as the favourite and duly won in 28:00.25 from Jack Rayner, 28:13.42, and David McNeill, 28:16.86.
Robinson, who also won in 2014, was on course to run in the low 27:50s before slowing slightly on his own over the final stages.
“I hoped Jack would be able to take a few laps in the second half, but he couldn’t get there,” said Robinson. “I switched off a little bit, but I’m happy with my run.”
Len Johnson for World Athletics