A bumper two weeks of Australian athletics begins in Adelaide this Sunday at the 2018 Australian 20km Race Walking Championships and Oceania Championships. The event doubles as the selection trial for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Rio Olympic bronze medalist Dane Bird-Smith (QLD) will be favourite to take out the men’s race. Should Bird-Smith win a fourth Australian title on Sunday, his third consecutively, he will equal the four won by his father and coach, David Smith.
Bird-Smith, laughed upon learning he could equal his father’s mark on Sunday.
“He’ll probably still tell me that he’s still one-up somehow.”
Quentin Rew (NZ) and Evan Dunfee (Can) will be the key international athletes to watch ahead of the Commonwealth Games, while Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom, Polish pair Artur Brzozowski and Jakub Jelonek, Lithuania's Marius Liukas and Chile's Yerko Araya will be keen to snag the early points on offer as part of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge. The series begins with the event in Adelaide this Sunday before heading to North America later this month.
“I’m just looking to do my thing and show them that they can’t come across here and take an Australian nationals without a fight,” said Bird-Smith. “I’ve got a job to do – I’ve got to get across the line first and get my qualification and everything nailed down for Commonwealth Games and then the real job starts.
“This is ticking a bit of a box but at the same time I don’t ever take a nationals lightly. Whenever I turn up to race, I turn up to race hard. I’ll be giving it a good crack.”
Seven-time winner and reigning Commonwealth Games champion Jared Tallent has been ruled out of Sunday’s race through injury. Tallent’s troublesome left hamstring, which also forced him out of the 2017 IAAF World Championships, unable to rehabilitated in time to attempt to qualify for Gold Coast 2018.
Bird-Smith has locked away three qualifying marks (1:24:00) in 2017, with Rio Olympian Rydian Cowley (Vic) the only other.
An incredibly strong women’s field is hard to split, with Claire Tallent (SA) chasing a fifth Australian 20km title, defending champion Regan Lamble, 2016 winner Rachel Tallent (ACT), 2014 winner Kelly Ruddick (Vic), and an in-form Jemima Montag (Vic) competing in her first season in the open ranks all taking to the start line on War Memorial Drive.
Beki Smith (NSW), winner at the Australian 10,000m Championships last month in Canberra said that the week leading into this weekend’s race will be key in deciding who books their ticket to the Gold Coast in April.
“It all comes down to this week being taper week and nerves and transferring that into excitement or something a bit more positive,” Smith said. “Normally I don’t want to race these bigger races. I want to - but with nerves there’s sometimes doubt. This time, I’m like, let’s do this! Hopefully the other girls are feeling the same way and it will be one hell of an exciting race.”
After she missed selection for the Olympic Games in Rio, Smith admits that a home Commonwealth Games has been a motivating factor over the last 18 months.
“Having the Commonwealth Games at home and knowing the walks have been included is something that you do get excited for and you want to be a part of it,” Smith explained. “It’s the only senior team that I haven’t been a part of yet. That excitement builds and especially being here in Australia where friends and family can come and watch, it just makes it that little bit more exciting and that little bit extra special.”
Smith, Lamble, Claire Tallent and Montag have all posted the Commonwealth Games qualifying standard of 1:36:00 meaning that much like the situation across a number of track and field events at the moment, finishing position on Sunday will be key to securing a spot on the Australian team for Gold Coast 2018.
“At the end of the day, as clichéd as it sounds it’s just a matter of who wants it more,” said Smith. “Hopefully for me, experience can come into play over the younger girls coming through. It’s definitely going to be a really fun race and a really interesting one. I’m happy that I’m a part of it and not on the sidelines, that’s for sure.”
More information can be found on the event page, here.