Aussie Milers, McSweyn & Hoare, tangle in Tasmania
“This is 100% good for the sport. Events like this are a rarity, and people are engaged with it so much that I think it’s another option that should be invested in.”
By Sean Whipp for World Athletics
On a cool night on the north coast of Tasmania, more than 2,000 of Devonport’s 26,000 residents watched Commonwealth 1500m champion Oliver Hoare assess the white lines spray-painted on Devonport Oval.
Hoare wore a wry smile as he ambled over to his handicap mark of ‘scratch’, accompanied by Australian 1500m and record holder Stewart McSweyn.
“When I spoke to (organizer) Richard Welsh and got the gist of it, I didn’t really know what I was walking into,” said Hoare. “It was handicapped, it was on grass, they had wood chopping and cycling… For me it was more about being able to engage with the running community.”
Hoare’s double checking with race officials is understandable. Thursday, December 29, 2022 was his first race in the Tasmanian Christmas Carnivals series. Hoare’s encounter with McSweyn over a Mile on grass marks the first meeting of the pair in Australia since a 5000m race in Hobart in 2016. The fifth and sixth fastest 1500m runners of 2022 raced twice over the Mile distance in McSweyn’s home state of Tasmania. The carnival series sees local athletes of all abilities receive ‘handicaps’ of 40 to 490 meters on McSweyn and Hoare as they contest the full race distance from ‘scratch’.
The Devonport and Burnie Carnivals have hosted Australian Milers Craig Mottram, Ryan Gregson and Matthew Ramsden. The Tasmanian coastal towns combine running, cycling and wood chopping on grass ovals wrapped by concrete velodromes.
But how did the carnival series convince the Australian Mile record holder to travel south? Meeting director and World Athletics Cross Country Championships Bathurst 23 organiser Richard Welsh hatched the idea in August.
“I asked Ollie, what better way is there to prepare for a 2-kilometer relay leg at the World Cross Country Championships than racing two one-Mile races against fellow Aussie world beater Stewart McSweyn?”
Hoare noted McSweyn’s annual visits to the carnivals were key in coaxing him down.
“He’s done so much for the sport already,” Hoare said of McSweyn, who hails from Tasmania. “He’s been a great advocate in the sport and in my event. To be able to run with him in this sort of format leading into Bathurst, Budapest and Paris – it just all adds up and hopefully gets more people excited and engaged in athletics.”
Hoare stated that while his profile has typically been greater in the USA, he wanted to race on home soil, an easy sell to coach Dathan Ritzenhein.
“It was about going to an event that I knew was engaging that could bring a crowd, but also have something with Stewy. To have the unique privilege of having somebody at his level in my own country, only a select few countries have that. So, it wasn’t a hard sell, Dathan was very open to it.”
The pair thrilled crowds in Devonport, entering the home straight side-by-side as Hoare pulled away with 75 meters remaining to finish second overall (4:03.73) with McSweyn fourth (4:03.92). Hoare drew comparisons between the track surface and the difficulties of opening the first 400m in 58 seconds.
“It was harder than what I expected,” said Hoare. “I thought it might feel fast like a track, but it felt a bit different – a bit more of a cross country feel. That was when I knew it was going to be a huge battle between Stewy and me.”
McSweyn was quick to point out the parallels between passing runners in the final lap and the push and shove of Diamond League racing.
“You’re weaving in and out of people a fair bit, but it gets us ready for the European season,” said McSweyn. “All the racing over there is pretty tough, you’ve got to get good at riding the bumps, but that’s the fun of the series, dodging 30 odd guys and girls makes it extra fun.”
The race in Devonport was everything Welsh had hoped for, the crowd roaring two of the best Milers in the world down the home straight. 12 months ago, Hoare was a relative unknown to the Australian public, but his Commonwealth Games win became the most watched individual performance of any Australian athlete.
Continue reading at: worldathletics.org