Some years there is an obvious favourite – in prospect, anyway – to win the men’s Zatopek: 10.
The year 2014 is not one of those years. The race, and with it the national title and inside running for world championships selection, is wide open.
A case could be made for any of half-a-dozen athletes to win the 54th running of the men’s Zatopek. Even then, you would not be overly confident about what will happen on the night.
One thing appears certain. With just one former winner in the field – David McNeill, no highly-ranked international visitors, and leading Australian contenders of recent times in Collis Birmingham and Ben St Lawrence absent, a new face appears certain to appear on the victory dais.
Brett Robinson is one of the more intriguing prospects. Though his only track 10,000 is a fifth place finish in the 2012 race, he has a bit of Zatopek night history. As a junior, Robinson finished third in the 2008 de Castella U20 3000 behind James Nipperess before winning two years later in the second-fastest time in race history.
Robinson comes in in good form, too, off a victory in the Burnie 10km road race at the start of November and then fastest time on the opening 5km leg of the Chiba International Ekiden relay on 24 November.
Interestingly, both the man who beat Robinson in the de Castella 3000 – Nipperess, and the man whom Robinson beat to record his win – New Zealander Aaron Pulford, are in Thursday night’s field.
Nipperess, a Glasgow Commonwealth Games steeplechase representative, will be making his debut at 10,000 while Pulford is return for his third crack at the race having run a personal best each of the past two years.
Though it will be his first 10,000, Nipperess has solid cross-country credentials having won both the Australian championship and the New Zealand championship race in recent years.
Collis Birmingham is the only man to have won both the U20 3000 and the Zatopek 10,000 to date. Either Robinson or Nipperess could match that feat with a win in this year’s 10,000.
As the only former winner in the field McNeill commands respect. He won the 2008 race, beating a handy trio in Bobby Curtis of the US, Commonwealth games marathon champion Michael Shelley and Birmingham and was second Australia finisher behind St Lawrence when Kenyan trio Ammanuel Bett, Bitan Karoki and Micah Kogo swept the places in the 2011 race.
McNeill’s most recent track race was paradoxically run as part of the Chiba Ekiden road relays. He won the 5000 metres track event for reserve runners in 13:51.58, which is as good as lead-in form as almost any other Zatopek entrant other than Robinson.
Samson Gebreyohannes of Eritrea is the only African entrant in this year’s race. He has a best track time of 28:28.05 run in Hengelo in the Netherlands two years ago. IN that form, he could be well up in the race.
Ben Moreau, third two years ago, returns for another crack at the race. Based in Sydney, but representing Great Britain, Moreau ran for England in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games marathon.
Liam Adams finished fifth in last year’s race and has been around the top half-dozen finishers in recent years. Seventh in the Commonwealth Games marathon, Adams defeated Athletics Essendon teammate Mitch Brown over 5000 metres recently. Anything near his 10,000 best of 28:11.76 would make him highly competitive on Thursday.
Brown, fourth in the Zatopek two years ago, could also feature prominently in this year’s race as could Duer Yoa, who ran one of the 10km legs for the Australian team in the Chiba Ekiden.