By Jonathan Gault
February 5, 2020
With the Camel City and Millrose meets this weekend, indoor track is in full swing, but the most important track races of the week will take place outdoors on Thursday night. Australia is holding its Olympic trials in the 5,000 meters at the Melbourne Track Classic, with the winners guaranteed a spot in Tokyo (assuming they can hit the Olympic standard or maneuver into position for a bid based on their World Ranking). Stewart McSweyn, Sam McEntee, Jessica Hull, and Genevieve Gregson (née LaCaze) are among the big names who will line up in Melbourne. Super quick guide to the races below.
When are the races?
The women’s race goes off at 7:40 p.m. AEDT on Thursday, which is 3:40 a.m. Thursday US Eastern Time. The men’s race is at 9:05 p.m. AEDT (5:05 a.m. ET). Streaming information wasn’t available as of publication, but check Athletics Australia’s Facebook page as there may be a streaming link closer to race time.
How does this all work?
Australia will hold its Olympic trials for most events at the Australian Athletics Championships at the end of March. But, as they did last year for Worlds, they’re holding the 5,000s separately.
The selection process isn’t as straightforward as the US. The winners in Melbourne are on the team as long as they hit the Olympic standard or are ranked highly enough to earn a bid from World Athletics (who are taking 42 men and 42 women in the 5,000 to Tokyo). The other two spots are “discretionary nominations,” which will be determined by Athletics Australia. Though AA lists a bunch of criteria in their official selection policy, time will likely be the most important (particularly if a lot of athletes from different countries start hitting the Olympic standards of 13:13.50/15:10.00).
I’ll get to who’s running in a minute, but I should first point out who is not running. Former NCAA XC champs Morgan McDonald and Patrick Tiernan, both of whom ran the 5,000 for Australia at the 2017 and 2019 Worlds, are skipping this meet. McDonald’s agent Stephen Haas told me that, based on the timing of the trials, McDonald’s current fitness, and the fact that just one guaranteed spot is on offer, McDonald will not race in Melbourne and instead focus on chasing a fast time later this year (Haas said his understanding from Athletics Australia is that the two discretionary spots will be picked on time). I didn’t talk to Tiernan, but imagine the thinking there is similar.
Tiernan and McSweyn are the only Australian men with the Olympic standard; Hull is the only woman with the standard. Since Tiernan isn’t running, McSweyn and Hull are the only athletes who can guarantee themselves a spot in Tokyo with a win on Thursday — unless someone else wins the trials and runs under the Olympic standard.
Men’s Preview: McSweyn’s race to lose
Stewart McSweyn has been Australia’s best distance runner over the last two years, and he’s the heavy favorite here. He was the only Aussie to make the World Championship 5k final in Doha, and in December, he ran 27:23 to win the Aussie 10,000 title and take down Ben St. Lawrence‘s national record in the process. He also had the fastest time by an Australian in the 1500 (3:31) and 5000 (13:05) last year.
And yet…McSweyn was upset in this race last year by Jordan Gusman. We know this year that Gusman won’t beat McSweyn this year as Gusman is now running for Malta — but there are a few other guys to watch here although an upset is unlikely. Former Arkansas star Jack Bruce was 3rd at the Australian 10k champs in December, behind only McSweyn and Tiernan, but he was a long way back (40+ seconds) from both. Sam McEntee was an Olympian in 2016 and made the Worlds team in 2017 but hasn’t been in great form the last couple years. Former NCAA champ David McNeill, a two-time Olympian, was second at the Aussie 5k champs two years ago and ran 28:16 in December. Does he have anything left at age 33?
At the other end of the age spectrum, 22-year-old Matthew Ramsden ran 3:35/7:45 last year, made the 1500 semis at Worlds, and was a respectable 39th at World XC. His 5,000 pb is only 14:01, but it dates to 2016, when he was only 18. He should be intriguing to watch, but challenging McSweyn will require a breakthrough run.
Women’s Preview: Can Jessica Hull win her first national title?
This race figures to be a little less predictable than the men’s. Hull, a four-time NCAA champion at Oregon (two DMRs, outdoor 1500, indoor 3k), is, on paper, the woman to beat. Though she was beaten in a 1500 for the ages at NCAAs last June, she enjoyed tremendous success after turning pro last summer. Her 15:00 5k in Berlin was the fastest by an Aussie since 2006 and good for #3 all-time, while her 4:01.80 1500 at Worlds put her #4 on the all-time Aussie list and left her an agonizing .28 shy of the World Championship final. After running 4:04 and defeating World Championship 5k medalist Konstanze Klosterhalfen two weeks ago in Boston, she’s clearly fit.
Hull’s biggest competition figures to be two women coming down from longer distances. Genevieve Gregson won the Zatopek 10k in Melbourne in December, and while the time wasn’t astounding (32:47), she has a history of success in the 5k — the last year she ran it, in 2016, she clocked 15:06 and made the Olympic final. Also entered is Japan’s Hitomi Niiya, who crushed a 66:38 Japanese half marathon record last month in Houston. Expect Niiya to push the pace up front.
Looking at other possible contenders, Melissa Duncan, now training under American Joe Bosshard, was Australia’s only entrant in this event in Doha (eliminated in heats) but only managed 9:12 in her last race, a 3k on January 30. Heidi See just ran 8:52 at the Armory two weeks ago. National 1500 record holder Linden Hall, a Florida State alum, could also threaten; she’s relatively unproven in the 5k, but she does own a 15:18 pb.
Most likely, we’ll have to wait until the actual Australian champs at the end of March to figure out who’s on the team in the women’s 5k since Hull (1500), Gregson (steeple), and Hall (1500) could all run events other than the 5k in Tokyo (the same issue could affect McSweyn, should he opt for the 1500 in Tokyo, as the schedule makes all of those doubles very tough). But a win here would be some nice insurance.