Feature Melbourne, Australia

Tallent’s road to Rio goes via Taicang

Jared Tallent in action at the 2012 IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Saransk (Getty Images)Jared Tallent in action at the 2012 IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Saransk (Getty Images) © Copyright

There is no race walking event on the program for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and, as a proud Australian athlete, Jared Tallent is sorry about that. He would have been the defending champion.

But there is an IAAF World Race Walking Cup in 2014, and the year after that a World Championships, and the year after that brings the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Tallent, who has stood on one of the lower steps in two Olympics, two World Championships and two World Cups in the past five years, is determined to enjoy the view from the top of the medallists’ dais in one or more of those three years.

Third in the 20km and second in the 50km at his first Olympics in Beijing in 2008, third in the 50km at the World Cup in Chihuahua in 2010 and again at the World Championships in Daegu in 2011, second in the World Cup in Saransk and the London Olympics (both at 50km) in 2012 and third in the 50km in Moscow just a couple of months ago, Tallent still harbours a burning ambition to win.

Speaking after being proclaimed Athletics Australia’s male athlete of the year in Melbourne on 15 November, Tallent affirmed his commitment through another Olympic cycle.

“My eyes are firmly set on Rio,” he told the master of ceremonies, Olympic sprinter and now television presenter Matt Shirvington. Major stops along the way, he confirmed, would include the World Race Walking Cup and the 2015 World Championships.

“It’s frustrating,” Tallent says of his record, not that he is thinking of giving any of his ‘minor’ medals back, mind you. And his first chance of redressing it will come at the World Cup in Taicang next May.

The IAAF event is Tallent’s major focus in 2014. The top Chinese race walkers will be out in force at a home event, and with no global event next year you can expect the top Europeans will be, too.

Tallent rates the IAAF event highly. “It’s up there with the World Champs, up there with the Olympic Games,” he says. “I’ll be doing the 50km there.”

Then it is back to a familiar location for his tilt at a World Championships gold medal. “A return to the Bird’s Nest,” he said. “I’ve got two (minor) medals there so I’ve got to go back and get a gold medal.”

Finally, there is Rio, representing a great chance for Tallent to go one better than his two Olympic silvers in the 50km.

If Tallent is looking for favourable omens, perhaps there is one in his belated ascension to the Australian award. As a consistent medallist in a small country which doesn’t get too many, Tallent has been successively tipped out of the top spot by Steve Hooker’s dramatic Olympic record win in 2008 and even-more-dramatic triumph over injury to win in Berlin in 2009, then by the performances of long jumper Mitchell Watt in 2011 and 2012.

Or maybe he can look to Robert Heffernan’s winning the 50km in Moscow – Ireland’s first male gold medallist since Eamonn Coghlan in 1983 and a perennial fourth-place finisher up until then.

“He’d never won a medal and the first time he does – it’s gold,” says Tallent.

A tick for the positive example of persistence paying off, but Heffernan is also one of a changing cast of characters who have thwarted Tallent’s winning ambitions.

“Every time I’ve won a medal there have been different people on the podium with me,” he points out, which adds to his frustration.

So, how to turn silver and bronze into gold?

One thing already accomplished is adapting to a new training environment. Moving from the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra to Adelaide and changing coaches from Brett Vallence to his wife, Claire Tallent, required a major adjustment, Tallent says.

“We have a great training plan now, but it was difficult at first moving from the AIS and having a coach that was not full-time. I don’t have the training partners and with Claire working full-time I have to fit training around her.”

It has worked out well, however, allowing the Tallents to concentrate on the “little things” that you can always do better.

Jared Tallent has already demonstrated the consistency to challenge for the biggest prizes. If he can find one of the “little things”, there is a fair chance it will have that elusive gold medal attached.

Len Johnson for the IAAF