Zatopek Legacy – David McNeill

David McNeill’s name is one that has become synonymous with expertise over 25 laps of a track. The two-time Olympian has represented Australia at the Commonwealth Games, four IAAF World Cross Country Championships, including a World Championship appearance in 2009 (Berlin). 

McNeill’s 16th place finish in Rio de Janeiro highlighted a career grown at altitude in the mountains of Flagstaff,  Arizona, spending three years representing Northern Arizona University in the collegiate athletic system, competing at nine NCAA national championships, winning two national titles whilst finishing 2nd twice, the Old Xaverian’s club member returned home a formidable international athlete.

With Zatopek:10 victories in 2008 and 2015, McNeill admits that the event holds a special place in his running calendar, having catapulted the wiry 27:45 10,000m man to a variety of green and gold emblazoned teams.

McNeill enters the 2017 edition of the race ranked 8th all-time for the distance amongst Australians, setting up a fascinating battle against the 3rd best Australian over 10,000m, 8 years his junior, Queenslander Patrick Tiernan. Many years of training weeks well in excess of 160 kilometers a week will hold McNeill in good stead, as local fans are treated to two of Australia’s best figuring each other out for a place at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – 11 DECEMBER 2008: David McNeill of Vic, Michael Shelley of QLD and Bobby Curtis of the USA run together in the Mens Zatopek 10000 Metres during the Zatopek Classic National Series meet at Olympic Park on December 11, 2008 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)


When did you first hear about the Zatopek race?

Probably around 2002. That was my first experience going and watching the Zatopek. I remember watching Lee Troop and Steve Moneghetti running the main event, and Shaun Forrest winning the U20 3km over Clint Perrett. On reflection, it was probably the beginning of my love affair with distance running. 

Why did you first run the Zatopek 10,000m event?

I first ran it in 2006. That was my first year in the senior ranks, and so it just seemed a natural progression to participate in it after having run the 3000m the previous few years in the juniors.

What does Zatopek mean as an event to you?

There’s certainly some sentimentality surrounding the event for me. I appreciate the history behind the event, I’ve won it twice myself, and I associate it with happy memories with my first coach, Tom Kelly, who was a major player in paving my way into this sport. But it’s also an important part of my quest each year to make Aussie teams, so there’s an element of pressure and nervous energy surrounding the event too!

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA –  05 DECEMBER 2015: Brett Robinson, David McNeill and Brian Shrader run in the Men’s 10,000 Metre Zatopek Open during the Australian All Schools Championships & Zatopek:10 at Lakeside Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Did you initially understand who Emil Zatopek was?

To be honest, I couldn’t tell you. I certainly know and appreciate who he is now, but the initial meaning I attributed to the event probably had more to do with how I felt star struck watching folks like Lee Troop and Craig Mottram winning the event when I was a youngster, and the way being at the old Olympic Park made you feel. That was an incredibly special venue, whose history was palpable every time you set foot in the stadium or on the track. 

What changed most during your training build-up to your first Zatopek 10?

I went into my first Zatopek with a chip on my shoulder. I’d stagnated over the last couple of years, and went into it with a great deal more dedication and my first time running over 100km a week in preparation. I went from a 31min 10k runner to coming 2nd Australian in a tick over 29mins.

How has the Zatopek 10 effected your career to date?

It’s provided a couple of my career highlights for sure. I rank my two Zatopek wins as some of my most special memories in this sport.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – 05 DECEMBER 2015: David McNeill of Old Xaverians celebrates after crossing the line to win the Zatopek Mens 10000m Open during the Australian All Schools Championships & Zatopek:10 at Lakeside Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)

Background and interview courtesy of Sean Whipp