On a balmy Gold Coast evening, Patrick Tiernan (QLD) and Stewart McSweyn (TAS) lined up in a world class 10,000 metre field, standing shoulder to shoulder with World Championship and Olympic medalists, a testing journey ahead for the pair.
An often misunderstood event, the 10,000 metres provides 25-laps of drama for many purists, as the war of attrition demonstrates any unpreparedness in an athlete’s lead-up training, or as witnessed tonight, provides a stage for a proud Kenyan team to do their utmost to dethrone a Ugandan champion.
Returning from a 5000m win earlier in the week, Joshua Cheptegei (UGA) is one of long distance runnings eminent superstars, challenging the likes of Mo Farah and Geoffrey Kamworor on the global stage recently.
Kenya’s Jonothan Ndiku asked questions early in the race, setting an undulating pace that ranged from 64 to 68-second laps, passing through 3000m in 8:19.50, following an opening kilometre of 2:43.10.
McSweyn and Tiernan began to feel the strain of subtle to dramatic pace changes nearing the 5000m mark, losing contact as the front group moved past halfway in 13:53.50, as Rodgers Kwemoi (KEN) continued to employ team tactics.
Striking fear into the hearts of competitors, whilst encouraging distance running fans to move to the edge of seats, Cheptegei found himself at the front of the field with 4000 metres remaining.
With a wry smile, the spritely Ugandan took one look at the big screen, pondered for a lap, then clicked off a 64-second circuit to test the field, bringing Jake Robertson (NZ) to the lead for a brief stint.
The race exploded with one kilometre remaining, as Rio Olympic fourth-place finisher Mohammed Ahmed (CAN) made his break for gold.
A penultimate lap of 61 seconds did little to unsettle Cheptegei, tearing off the final lap in 56.7 seconds, taking gold in a Games Record of 27:19.62, as Ahmed took silver (27:20.56), with Kwemoi hanging on for bronze (27:28.66).
IAAF statistician Jon Mulkeen astutely observed that Cheptegei’s final kilometre of 2:26.32 was faster than Farah’s final kilometre in the 10,000m at the 2011, 2015 & 2017 World Champs and 2012 & 2016 Olympics, a truly world-class performance for the Carrara Stadium crowd.
McSweyn laboured through a difficult evening on the track, one sure to add to the debutant’s international experience, a time of 28:58.22 placing the Tasmanian 12th.
Tiernan was initially listed in 10th, finishing in 28:41.16, helped from the track in a wheelchair, the humble Australian waited trackside for the final athlete to finish, sharing a handshake with Lesotho’s Toka Badboy. Tiernan was later disqualified for a lane infraction.
The third-ranked Australian over the 10,000m distance, Tiernan was dismayed post-race, “It would’ve been nice to come out here and run well. If I’d been up there I could’ve had a run at the Aussie record, which is something I think I can do.”
“It’s not a par effort for a home Games, in an event where I know I can run with those top guys up until at least the last lap. I’ve got a lot of things to go home and work on, Tokyo’s only two years away, that's a lot of time, and I know I can do it, I’ve just got to figure out what the problem is”.
The Australian trio of Eloise Wellings (NSW), Celia Sullohern (NSW) and Madeline Hills(NSW), returned to Carrara Stadium, aiming to build on their 10,000m performances earlier in the week to cap off the Games athletics program.
Sullohern employed her now trademark tactic of determinedly clinging to the lead pack for as long as possible, remaining in the fight for bronze deep into the race. Unable to match the finishing kick of Laura Weightman (SCO), Sullohern battled home bravely for fifth (15:34.73), capping an impressive debut Commonwealth Games.
Wellings hung with Sullohern until the final three laps, improving on her performance in the 10,000m earlier in the week, showing great resilience in finishing eighth (15:39.02).
Showing signs of fatigue early in the race, losing contact with the main group as six laps remained. Hills drained every ounce of effort from herself, finishing tenth (15:46.92).
Reigning World Champion Hellen Obiri (KEN) put on a masterclass over the final 1000 metres, as a 62.8sec final lap punctuated a composed 15:13.11 victory. Teammate Margaret Kipkemboi (KEN) clung to Obiri throughout the final stages, rewarded with a silver medal (15:15.28). Weightman’s bold final hurrah with 300m remaining resulted in a bronze medal (15:25.84), to add to her 1500m silver from Glasgow.