Tricky thing when your name is Tallentheadline writers want to either make mischief or praise your virtues.
Therefore, it’s just as well Jared Tallent is the latest Australian to worry the rest of the race walking world that his country will be major players at the 23rd IAAF World Race Walking Cup at Cheboksary, Russia, 10/11 May 2008.
Tallent’s eye-catching 79:41 at the Australian 20k Championship in February saw him become only the fifth Aussie to duck under the sub-80-minute barrier. And along with Nathan Deakes and Luke Adams, the 24-year-old from the little town of Ballarat in Victoria, hopes they might convert their 2006 team silver to a glittering gold.
“But we’ll be on Russian soil,” explains Tallent, “and they’ll definitely be the ones to beat.”
Nonetheless, the ducks are in a row for the man who’s emerged out of the shadows of World record holder Deakes and IAAF Challenge Series star Adams.
Prior to his sub-80 breakthrough, Tallent hit the kind of form that made his Melbourne win something of a shoo-in.
The week before, he walked a 7x2k track session, starting with 8mins for the first five laps, that’s starting, mind you, and finishing off 14k later with a scintillating 7:20.
The heart-pounding stats are something of a testament to the wondrous facilities at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra, and Tallent’s stay in the Altitude House.
It may sound like a sinister chamber from a spy thriller, but instead of trekking to the Andes’, athletes like Tallent walk through a door to a comfortable living complex boasting plasma TV screens.
“In fact,” explains Tallent, “you only need to spend up to 14 hours a day to feel the benefits. If you sleep there and chuck in a couple more hours, that’s pretty much it.”
But for anyone who’s trained while acclimatizing to 3000 feet above sea level, it takes it out of the body – and then some.
But Tallent is used to a little pain.
His breakthrough in the last World Cup at La Coruna, where his then PB (81:36) saw him not only beat Adams but cement an Aussie medal, was sandwiched between disappointment at the 2005 World Championships and a surprising omission from the 2007 Championships 50km team.
In the former, his 18th place out of 32 finishers at Helsinki was at odds with his fine form. And after walking 3:55:08 in December, 2006, he was then left out of the final three for Osaka last September.
When Tallent was disqualified in the shorter 20km while sitting comfortably in the top five, there was something of a need to take stock.
However, any lingering worries were quashed just three months later, when he obliterated his 50km mark by almost 10 minutes back home in Australia to make sure there would be no doubt in selectors’ minds this time.
Tallent duly put his name down for the Olympics 50km team in Beijing, and then a month later underlined his 20k credentials with the fabulous 79-minute showing in Fawkner Park.
According to Tallent, Cheboksary will be the dress rehearsal for the Olympics – and the Aussie knows it will be a decent barometer for later.
He said: “Obviously in Olympic year everybody will be really trying, and anything good that comes out of the World Cup is bound to be a bonus.
“With Luke and Nathan and some of the other guys, we’ve obviously got a sound base. But improving on the silver? The Russians might have something to say about that, but you never know.”
And is there a danger of falling between two stools by competing in both the 50km and 20km in Beijing?
“The 20k is definitely the prime objective – and the longer race is just a welcome extra,” said Tallent. “Erik Tysse (Norway) showed you can walk both and still do well.”
The Australian’s rich vein of form suggests he can more than live up to his local newspaper’s endless stream of puns.
He said: “Yeah, they’ll have things like ‘All Tallent’ and similar – so I’ll just do my best to give them a few more…”
Paul Warburton for the IAAF