Dane Bird-Smith (Qld) and Rachel Tallent (Vic) are one step closer to a maiden start at the Olympic Games after stunning personal best performances at the Oceania & Australian 20km Race Walking Championships in Adelaide (SA) this morning.
To be automatically nominated for selection to the Australian Olympic Team, the duo were victorious after fantastic races in both the men’s and women’s open events, with results also confirming Rio 2016 qualifying performances for green and gold starters Rhydian Cowley (Vic, 1:22:07), Tanya Holliday(SA, 1:32:15), Beki Smith (NSW, 1:32:49), and Stephanie Stigwood (Tas, 1:33:45).
In the men’s race, the early pace was set by Perseus Karlstrom (SWE, 6th, 1:21:03) as the international starter extended his lead to as much as fifteen seconds, before being absorbed by those on his heels as the race neared half way. Bird Smith, Lebogange Shange (RSA, second, 1:20:06) and Ben Thorne (CAN, third, 1:20:08) shared the lead through the chase effort before Bird-Smith moved to the front on the bell lap and held on to a narrow margin to win in a sprint finish.
“That was the perfect race, really. I paced it out with the guys that I needed to go with. It was about winning that Australian title today, nailing the race, and highlighting that in an Olympic year I am ready,” Bird-Smith said.
“I’m getting closer to that 80-minute barrier, I guess it is something that I will save for Rio now. I’ve been doing personal bests in training and it’s good to get it done in a race as well.
“The game plan from here is to finish off a few more races domestically. I’ll be chasing a couple more personal bests, before heading to Europe for the World Walk Cup and challenge for a medal placing. I’ll be hitting it until we get to Rio as much as I can.”
In the women’s race, Tallent left her charge to the front until the closing laps of the two-kilometre loop course.
Among the pack in the early stages, it was Stigwood who pushed the pace in the first instance, with her efforts stringing out the field across the first five kilometres. Smith then moved to the front, with Regan Lamble (Vic, DNF) on her shoulder, before they were caught by Tallent and Holliday. Smith’s lead was maintained until the 18-kilometre mark when Tallent took the lead and never looked back, crossing to win in a personal best time of 1:31:33.
“That was very unexpected. I was hoping for top-three today in a pretty quick time, but to come away with the win in a time like that is even better. I smashed my previous best by more than two minutes, it is such a confidence boost,” Tallent said.
Tallent is coached by her older brother and three-time Olympic medallist Jared Tallent, with the result today a great success for both of them as she tries to make a name for herself in the sport irrespective of her familial name.
“I knew that coming in to this year I had a lot to work on after my experience at the world championships last year. I wanted to be as competitive as I could be, and knowing my older brother, I wanted to do as much as I can to not be his little sister. I am stoked to have made the team now and it’s about reassessing and improving as much as I can. I don’t want to be a spectator when I am over there,” Tallent said.
The #SUMMERofATHS continues on Saturday 5 March, with athletes from across Australia and the globe to descend on Lakeside Stadium for the IAAF Melbourne World Challenge.
Next weekend, Athletics Queensland, Athletics New South Wales and Athletics Victoria will all play host to state championships, featuring many athletes on the hunt for Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic qualifying performances.
To view and download results from the Oceania & Australian Race Walking Championships, please click here.