Stewart McSweyn and Celia Sullohern upset the established order in winning the men’s and women’s Zatopek 10,000m races in Melbourne on Thursday (14).
Less than 24 hours after Melbourne had sweltered through a 37C day, McSweyn and Sullohern turned up the heat on more fancied rivals to sweep to their first national track titles. Each had previously won their national cross-country title, but this was a first gold on the track.
McSweyn hails from King Island, lying in the Bass Strait between Victoria on the mainland and Tasmania. It is famous mostly for its cheese and the King Island Imperial ‘20’ (mile) race. It is now famous for McSweyn as well, who ran the 3000m steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 earlier this year.
Sullohern is a mainlander, now from northern New South Wales, but she might as well have been in the middle of Bass Strait for most of the past five years. A representative in the women’s junior team at the 2011 World Cross Country Championships, where she finished 21st, she went on to win the Australian cross-country title the following year before fading largely from the scene. She regained form through triathlon competitions and has returned to athletics with a vengeance, winning the Melbourne Marathon in 2:29:27 in October and now the Zatopek.
Neither had it easy. McSweyn knocked off defending champion Patrick Tiernan in the men’s race while Sullohern sprinted to victory ahead of World Championships marathon ninth-place finisher Jess Trengove and Eloise Wellings in the women’s race.
For 9900 metres, the men’s race seemed to be heading Patrick Tiernan’s way. The world 5000m finalist looked dangerously relaxed as the race progressed at what, it must be said, was a comfortable pace. ‘Championship racing’ is how expert commentator Craig Mottram kindly described it on the live commentary.
After strolling through half way in just under 14:40, the race still did not seriously pick up pace until Tiernan made his move along the back-straight on the 21st lap. A group of half a dozen was quickly reduced to just two – Tiernan and McSweyn. Olympians Dave McNeill and Brett Robinson were notably dislodged at that point.
Tiernan would it up with a series of 62-second laps to the bell. He looked good; ominously, McSweyn was looking just as comfortable. With 200 metres remaining, Tiernan held on to the lead. He still held it as they swept past the spectators who had been allowed on to the outside lanes of the track. Within a few metres more, however, it was all over as McSweyn launched his final sprint to the line. He crossed the finish in 28:37.28, 10 metres to the good of Tiernan.
McNeill surged back over the final laps to re-pass Robinson and take third place.
After the muddling early pace, the last four laps went by in 4:07. Neither man produced a super sprint, McSweyn’s effort was just a little stronger, and a lot better-placed tactically, than Tiernan’s.
McSweyn now has a place in the Commonwealth Games team at 10,000m, should he choose to take it up. He is running a steeplechase in 10 days’ time and will also try to qualify at 5000m. For the minute, at least, the others can please themselves.
Sullohern, too, did not emerge as a potential winner until late in the women’s race.
After a moderate first half of 16:39.48, Trengove took up the lead in the women’s race with 10 laps to run and aggressively pushed the pace. The leisurely 80-second laps quickly became 78s, then 76s.
Only Sullohern and three-time winner Wellings were able to stay with Trengove. With three laps to go, Wellings gave ground, first five metres, then 10, then unequivocally off the pace. At the bell it was just Trengove and Sullohern. At the line it was Sullohern in 32:31.22 from Trengove, 32:35.06, and Wellings, 32:41.96.
It was Sullohern’s first Zatopek win and she joined Susie Power and Bridey Delaney in winning both the Zatopek 10,000 and the U20 Lisa Ondieki women’s 3000m.
For Trengove it was another close, but not quiet, performance in a race she has run eight times in the past 10 editions. She was fourth that year, third in 2010, fourth again in 2011 and 2012, second 2013, fifth in 2014 and now second again in 2017. One place ahead of her in 2014? None other than Celia Sullohern. One place made a heck of a lot more difference in 2017.
Len Johnson for the IAAF