A combination of Australian competitiveness, loving the journey and the friendships made (as well as sidestepping a bureaucrat or two) enabled Luke Adams to master the IAAF Race Walking Challenge of 2007.
Ahead of a good hit out at the Australian 20km Olympic trials on 23 February, the popular 31-year-old looked back on last year’s events, and described what keeps him going through the hard work necessary for global success in walking.
After consist races in China, Portugal, Italy and Poland in the 2007 IAAF Race Walking Challenge, Luke’s main was medal success at Osaka but injury and a chance to redeem his season forced a change of plan after the World Championships.
“Everything was going fairly perfectly up until a few days before when I had some problems with my hamstring, which certainly put ‘the cat among the pigeons’ and made things hard for me on race day. Hence, I was pretty disappointed finishing seventh,” said Luke from his home in Can-berra.
“The main championship is always the aim for the year - but the IAAF Challenge is the next step from there.”
Elaborate efforts to get to the final starting line
Come the final in Saransk last September, the Challenge was down to a fight between Luke and Erik Tysse of Norway. These two alone from the leading men in the standings made it to the Rus-sian stronghold of race walking, overcoming all diplomatic hurdles in their way.
“Organising invitations and visas and so on to get into Russia was problematic. You like to do these things well in advance but I ended up going online and organising my own invitation. It was all pretty much last minute and luckily it came together for me. Other people weren’t so lucky.”
“The race went fairly well. Coming second was great. A few of the guys were just flying and going at a World record pace and only one of them survived the race.”
That was Vladimir Kanaykin, who claimed victory in a new World Record time of 1:17:16.
“I had a battle with one of the Russians for a while and won that and found myself in second as it came into the last lap.”
“So, I was quite pleased with that. I was very tired after the season so didn’t really expect to walk quick or have high hopes for the race - I just felt good on the day.”
Out of Africa
Luke’s fondness for travel to remote parts had early origins having being born in Mvumi in central Tanzania.
“My parents worked there for nine years as medical missionaries in a leprosy mission out in the middle of nowhere. I happened to come about while they were there and had four or five years in Africa before coming to Australia for the first time.”
As soon as he’d arrived in his homeland Luke was involved in track and field.
“Through school I was running, jumping, walking and I happened to help out for my school team and did well in it. My coach was a walk oriented coach and she said I had talent and should con-centrate on that, so I did and haven’t turned back.”
Emerging from the shadow of Deakes
Luke started his international career with a 24th placing at the 1994 World Junior Championships in Lisbon and claimed his first championship medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games with a silver in the 20km walk.
“The World Juniors in 1994 was maybe only a year after I specialised. That gave me a taste of the future and made me inclined to concentrate on the walk.”
For most of the years since Luke has walked in the shadow of Nathan Deakes, his younger com-patriot and training partner, including finishing second to Nathan in the last two Commonwealth Games 20km walks.
However, Luke is determined to remain undaunted by his local rival.
“None of us doing the sport want to come second in any race, no matter whether it’s to Nathan or any person but at least I’m getting beaten by a World record holder and World champion. He’s an extremely high calibre athlete, extremely talented and one of the hardest training athletes that you’ll come across. You’ve really got to earn the victory to get ahead of him.”
“While second doesn't please me in any way, shape or form at least I’m coming second to some-one who’s earned the position ahead of me. I’ve got to earn it to beat him so that’s what I’ve got to do.”
Breakthrough in Paris
Luke has had to make the most of his chances, and his breakthrough came in the 2003 World Championships.
“I trained really well that year, did some good races to qualify but was fortunate to get a spot on the team through Nathan being sidelined through injury. I did a block of altitude and raced really, really well and did a huge personal best and took 5th place.”
His time of 1:19:35 remains the fastest 20km walk by an Australian in major international champi-onships
“It was a big jump but one that came after a lot of years of work. Fortunately, it finally came and at the right championship.”
Sense of community
Through all those years and hard miles on the road, a race walker needs to have a reason to be-lieve, and Luke finds the journey, and the friendships gained, to be his inspiration.
“One of the special things we get to do is to travel all over the world and meet fellow athletes in training camps and there’s a really good bonding and sense of community within race walking. That’s a really motivating thing and one of the perks.”
Little time for rest
Luke is in hard training but the down-under season places unusual demands, even in Olympic year.
“Last season was a really long season. I finished it late and I didn’t have a long break as I had to get ready for the Australian 50km Olympic trial in December. I turned it around quickly - probably too quickly in retrospect as I picked up some injuries and didn’t do a great deal of training. Still, I managed to walk a reasonable 50km - it was a big pb. I was happy to get through the race without vomiting!”
Remarkably, in that race five Australians finished inside the Olympic A standard of 4 hours - and that’s not including Nathan Deakes who’s already selected. Luke was third in 3:53:19, behind Ja-red Tallent and Adam Rutter.
On Saturday, Luke had a good hit out in finishing second in the Australian 20km Championship in a fast 1:20:32, 51 seconds behind Jared Tallent who made the double in a world leading time and Olympic qualifying performance. Luke was already pre-selected for Beijing and, with everything focused on peaking in mid-August, competed without backing off from hard training.
“All that was required was to race and demonstrate my fitness to assure my inclusion in the Olym-pic team. I did just that following a very laboured and flat feeling in the week prior to racing. I'm far from happy to finish in second position but on the positive side it’s the quickest start to any season I've ever had so it reinforces my knowledge of being on the right track with my preparations for the Olympics. It took an outstanding performance from Jared to win the title,” said Adams after the race.
Supporting the 2008 IAAF Race Walking Challenge
Looking to the season Adams confirmed that he will be supporting and racing this year’s Chal-lenge.
“I can’t confirm what events I’m going to do at the moment but I will be race a little bit more spar-ingly than last year.”
“Certainly the World Cup will be on the agenda. Hopefully, I’ll be able to shake it up myself and the team will do the same thing.”
The 23rd World Cup, on 10-11 May, in the city of Cheboksary, is even further off the tourist trail, in the next Russian republic further east than the scene of Luke’s success last year.
“The World Cup’s going to be fun. The Russians are going to be extremely hard to beat so I think it’s one championship where they’re going to be battling in full force in every category. It should be interesting.”
Luke will shortly return to his training regime and life on the road, including a five week training block with Nathan Deakes in Flagstaff, Arizona at 2300m plus altitude.
Tim Watt for the IAAF