Olympic 20km race walk bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith talks about a couple of enormous career highs and a recurring low.
I have two outstanding memories in my career, which are both very special but for different reasons. I can’t pick one over the other but winning 2016 Olympic bronze and the 2018 Commonwealth Games title on Gold Coast both changed my perception of the sport.
My father (David Smith) was a dual Olympian and as a highly competitive and driven person, I too dreamt of one day becoming an Olympian.
I just missed out on making the London Olympics, finishing fourth at the Australian Trials. It's a cliché but I vowed from that day on I would not only do everything I could to make the team for the 2016 Rio Olympics, I committed to doing everything I could to win a medal.
I trained upwards of 15 kilometres a day on the soft sand at my training base of Rainbow Beach, north of Brisbane, to strengthen my legs. I trained at altitude to push my body to new levels. By the time I arrived in Rio, I had the confidence that I could attack the top guys and I wasn’t going to be left behind.
Even today, winning a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics fills me with an enormous sense of pride. When the medal hangs around my neck, I feel the gravity but defy it – that is what it means to carry the Olympic legacy. It was an unbelievable feeling.
My other high moment was winning gold in the 20km race walk at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. Australia has such a history in the event, having won the previous four editions, that I was carrying the legacy of the likes of Nathan Deakes and Jared Tallent on my shoulders. Yet pressure can be an honour. To have the aspirations of an entire country behind you is an inspirational feeling. That pressure could have broken me but instead it lifted me.
During those final stages of the 20km race walk when I put in that final turn of speed to defeat Tom Bosworth, I was thinking about that Australian support.
To become the Commonwealth Games champion in a Games record and put my footprint in history alongside those other great Australian names likes Nathan Deakes, Jared Tallent and Nick A’Hern – guys who are my idols – and to be presented my gold medal by Nathan was a fantastic experience and one I will never forget.
I would say my low moments have come during that early period between major championships when I am slowly building back into my training.
I find this tough. I know this is critical to building the base for the months to come, but it is also often a lonely period. I train on my own. I am often relying on self-motivation, yet this is often the toughest of times because I’m immersed in the daily grind, but with very little recognition for turning up and training.
Post-Rio I found this period tricky. After receiving the respect and kudos of winning a bronze medal, I found it hard to revaluate my goals. Even at the 2017 IAAF World Championships, I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. I wasn’t present in the race (he finished sixth) and I questioned what I wanted to do.
I spent a few months figuring out whether I wanted to pursue the Olympic dream for the 2020 Tokyo Games. My wife and family offered great support.
It was during the four-day challenge event in China in September last year that I felt a spark. On day three, something switched on and I went from the gun. It was the most exhilarating race, which I won by more than a minute and a half. It was so much fun and it reignited my love for the sport.
Steve Landells for the IAAF