Stewart McSweyn wins the 2km race at Australia's World Cross Trials (© Athletics Australia)
There’s nothing more satisfying than confirming a place in a team at the first time of asking. Eight Australians did just that in Canberra on Sunday (15) at the selection trials for the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Bathurst 23.
With the top three finishers in the men’s and women’s 10km races guaranteed spots on the Bathurst team, and the winners of the 2km ‘dashes’ selection in the mixed relay, the racing was highly competitive.
The manicured surface of Stromlo Forest Park – a legacy project from the 2003 Canberra bushfires suggested and championed by Robert de Castella – does not bear much resemblance to the rougher ground around Bathurst’s Mount Panorama circuit, but two loops on each of the 2.5km laps up and down the slopes of a steep hill were an adequate simulation of the climbs. De Castella was a happy spectator as Australia’s best raced around his course.
Wins were one thing, but making the team was the highest priority, a view summarised by winner of the women’s race, Rose Davies. “The goal was top six, but I wanted one of those auto spots,” she said after the race.
Men’s winner Jack Rayner expressed a similar sentiment adding how good it was to win a trial for the home team to compete in a home championship. Only once before has the World Cross been held in the southern hemisphere, in Auckland in 1988.
“It was amazing,” said Rayner. “One of the things I wanted to achieve, so that’s ticked off the list. Hopefully that form can translate; it’s a whole different story at the World Cross Country.”
Rayner was heading to Bathurst on Sunday afternoon to check out the course in advance of the championships on 18 February.
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Stewart McSweyn, a hot favourite, was a comfortable winner of the men’s 2km, taking the one automatic spot allocated from the trial. This may have been a relief to both the present selectors and the absent Ollie Hoare as this allows the former to now use their discretion to pick the latter. Had someone caused a surprise and snatched the automatic spot, only one of McSweyn and Hoare could have been chosen.
Abbey Caldwell was on a rapid improvement curve through 2022 which ultimately took her to a 1500m bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games. Racing for the first time in 2023, she confirmed her trajectory remains upward with a seven-second victory over Jessica Hull in the women’s 2km.
Many believe a mixed relay team comprised of McSweyn, Hoare, Caldwell and Hull would challenge for a medal in Bathurst. They could, of course, but as Rayner agreed after his winning run in the 10km, a team of four all finishing inside the top 30 could also do very well.
Rayner has been in strong recent form with a win in the annual Zatopek 10,000m last month and he is keen to better his best World Cross result, a solid 40th in Kampala in 2017. Joining him as automatic selections were Matthew Ramsden and Brett Robinson.
Ramsden went out hard and at half-way, reached in around 14:25, had a 50-metre lead. Rayner and Robinson closed that gap down in the third lap. Rayner won in 29:26 by almost 20 metres from Ramsden, 29:29, and another 50 to Robinson (29:37) whose most recent race saw him break de Castella’s national marathon record in Fukuoka.
Those three can pack their bags. Fourth and fifth-placed Rorey Hunter and Andrew Buchanan will most likely join them with the last place up to the selectors.
Leanne Pompeani upset Davies to win the women’s Zatopek race, thwarting Davies’ hopes of winning for the third time in a row. Racing on her home course, Canberra-based Pompeani was a crowd favourite but she and others in the leading group had no answer when Davies surged clear late in the race.
Davies, who arrived in Canberra on race eve after a training stint at Falls Creek on the Victorian High Plains, won by eight seconds from Pompeani in 33:33. Caitlin Adams, like Pompeani a member of Australia’s team four years ago in Aarhus, took the final automatic spot in third place just ahead of Isobel Batt-Doyle, Hollie Campbell and marathon and 10,000m representative Ellie Pashley.
Trials were also conducted for the men’s and women’s U20 events at Bathurst. Logan Janetzki won the men’s 8km event in 24:18 from Archie Noakes (24:44) and Jack Coomber (25:21).
The women’s 6km race went to Amy Bunnage who won by more than 80 seconds in 20:22 from Gabrielle Schmidt (21:44) and Gabrielle Vincent (22:01).
The full Australian team for the World Cross is expected to be announced by the end of the week.
Len Johnson for World Athletics