Wellings Can Create History!

Plus many chances in the Men’s 10,000m…

Eloise Wellings comes into the 2016 women’s Zatopek 10,000 metres as one of four women to have won the race three times. She could emerge as the only one to have triumphed four times in the famous race.

There will be plenty of competition, but Wellings looks the pick in the women’s race provided there are no lingering effects from her Rio Olympic and late season racing in Europe. The 56th edition of the men’s Zatopek, on the other hand, looks a wide-open affair.

When the Victorian Marathon Club inaugurated the Emil Zatopek race back in 1961, the longest distance available to women was 800 metres – and that had just been returned to the Olympic program in Rome the previous year, 32 years after an ill-fated debut at the 1928 Games.

The VMC was at the forefront of the move to expand distance opportunities for women. Lavinia Petrie became one of Australia’s women marathon pioneers when she completed the club’s annual marathon in 1977. Women were also running in the Zatopek from that same time.

When it came to adopting the 10,000 metres, however, the VMC faced a practical problem: it was already promoting the best non-championship women’s 3000 metres on Zatopek night.

Consequently, the first female Zatopek competitors were graded into the race appropriate to their times and the ‘winner’ was the fastest overall. Joan Logan (nee Cameron) won two races on that basis and the first women-only Zatopek in 1979 to become the first three-time winner.

Carolyn Schuwalow, a 1988 Olympic finalist, won in 1982 (as a junior), in 1991 (in an Australian record) and in 1993, and Natalie Harvey won three times in a row from 1996 to 1998. Wellings has won three times – consecutively in 2009 and 2010, and again last year – and has a chance to make it four on Thursday evening at Lakeside, Albert Park.

Wellings’ efforts in Rio a few months ago entitle her to start favourite. She slashed her personal best by almost 30 seconds in finishing tenth in Almaz Ayana’s world record 10,000 metres, then ran her fastest 5000 in 10 years in finishing ninth in that event. To top it off, she ran almost as fast again in the 5000 at the Diamond League final in Brussels.

Camille Buscomb, Virginia Moloney and Makda Harun Haji – second, third and fourth behind Wellings in last year’s Zatopek – are all competing again on Thursday. Buscomb just missed making New Zealand’s Olympic team, Moloney slashed her marathon best in winning the Australian championship in Melbourne in October and Harun Haji won the Sydney marathon a month earlier again.

Others to keep an eye on include Bridey Delaney, making her track debut at the distance, Olympic steeplechase representative Victoria Mitchell, Leanne Pompeani, first Australian in the U20 race at last year’s world cross-country championships, and Kate Spencer, who ran 15:28.47 for 5000 metres earlier in the year.

Zoe Buckman and Genevieve LaCaze are also in the field, ostensibly to set the pace. Given the apparent ease with which LaCaze continued well beyond half-way last year, and her achievements in 2016, it would be an intriguing prospect if she decided to finish.

Speaking of intrigue. The 2010 Zatopek winner (and world’s fastest man that year), Josphat Menjo, has entered the men’s race. It remains to be seen whether he gets to the line, but his limited track appearances in 2016 include a 5000 metres at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku where he ran 13:20.51 ahead of Patrick Tiernan’s Olympic qualifier of 13:20.88 and David McNeill.

McNeill is also entered for this year’s Zatopek, but he has withdrawn after suffering from illness on a recent trip to the Delhi half-marathon.

Tiernan, however, will make his 10,000 debut in the Zatopek and, after his win in the NCAA cross-country championships a couple of weeks ago, will definitely be one to watch.

Brett Robinson and Brian Shrader of the USA, second and third behind McNeill in 2015, are back again this year. Robinson won in 2014 and improved his debut time by almost 20 seconds last year, but you get the impression that as a world championships and now Olympic 5000 metres finalist there is potential for still further improvement.

There are any number of good prospects scattered through the remainder of the field. Mitch Brown has three finishes in the top six in the past four years, Chris Hamer was fourth in 2013 and has struggled with injury since, Sam McEntee is national 5000 champion and an Olympic rep, Stewart McSweyn narrowly missed qualifying for Rio in the steeple and Jack Rayner and Joshua Johnson have both run impressive 3000s in the past month.

They probably won’t all feature in the finish on Thursday night, but if enough are there with five laps to go we should be in for a cracking race.

– Len Johnson