After a disappointing 17th place finish in the Van Damme Memorial 1500 last month, Craig Mottram decided that he wouldn’t be defending his World Cup title in the 3000.
But after reading an Australian news report that he was considering pulling out of the race, Mottram said he became energized to train even harder, and quickly changed his mind. After his stunning upset over Kenenisa Bekele with an Area record 7:32.19, he was glad he did.
“I’m a happy man,” said the 26-year-old Australian, beaming after successfully concocting a recipe to render the admittedly tired Bekele’s closing kick useless.
“The last three have been tough,” he said, “I was off and on, I had bad sessions. I didn’t really know if I wanted to come to Athens and run because I wasn’t 100% sure I’d win and get a good result. That’s not the way I want to finish the year. But I also didn’t want to finish after that 1500 in Brussels.
“But being team captain and being defending champion I really had to come here and stand up and show everybody in track and field that I’m the man I want to be that I’ve shown over the past year.”
The pair broke from the field early on with Bekele, the World record holder in the event, setting the tempo while Mottram shadowed him closely. With just over two laps remaining, Mottram took the lead, only to be shadowed by Bekele. Injecting a series of small surges, Mottram tried to create some gaps, but Bekele responded in kind until the Australian created an insurmountable one at the top of the final backstretch.
“The plan was just to hang on and unleash hell with 950 to go,” said the 26-year-old Australian, whose 2002 victory in the competition set the stage for his emergence as one of the world’s finest all-around distance runners. “And then try to get away and hope that Kenenisa was tired, which he obviously was.”
Soon after making his decisive break, Mottram said he knew the race was over.
“With 220 to go I could see the big screen and I saw that I had five meters on him, and I thought, ‘This is unbelievable!’ Then I went again over the final bend and I knew it was over. I could enjoy the final 50 meters. It was great.”
“My years’ been up and down,” he explained. “I started off with the Commonwealth Games in Australia and that was obviously a huge highlight, and I always like to finish with a win and have a great result. I was extremely ready to go today.” Mottram said he wasn’t surprised with the time, knowing that he arrived in the Greek capital prepared to run about 7:30, well under the 7:32.84 Area record he ran in mid July. The difficulty was with devising the proper strategy to defeat the heavily-favoured Bekele.
“Even this morning we were thinking about what would be the best way to get the rest of the field away and then battle it out with Bekele,” he said. “We would have been pleased with second but we really wanted to try and win. But you know, Bekele’s the best athlete in the world by far. I dreamt about it, yeah, but to do it, it’s great.”
The initial plan, Mottram said, was to follow the Ethiopian and make his move with 950 metres to go, a sustained kick that would run the kick out of Bekele, and then close with a final 800 of under 1:51 if the pace was slow. “But Kenny obviously took it on very solid and I went with 900 to go. Then we slowed up and then I went again with 500. Then I felt him on my shoulder and went again, and tried to stay alert. I learned at the Commonwealth games that once you let them get past you, it’s hard to get that back. You can’t let anyone past.”
Besides being a successful note with which to cap his season, Mottram said his outing at the Olympic Stadium in Athens was one he plans to tuck away in his race plan notebook, and reference when necessary.
“We wanted to test different things out there today,” he said. “Somebody’s got to beat him in the Olympics and World Championships, and this is a great place to practice that. Today, we came with better equipment.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF