MadridCraig Mottram knew he was in with a good chance of winning the biggest race of his career when double Olympic silver medallist, Paul Bitok went up to him in the call-room and said, "Good luck, you're the man tonight". "I was shocked," said the 22 year-old Aussie after taking the comment as advice, and running away from the World Cup 3000 metres field in Madrid.
"I see a lot of the Kenyans, 'cause I'm based in London during the summer, and normally they keep to themselves. When they're on their own rather than in a bunch, maybe they feel as vulnerable as we do when we're running against a group of them".
Whatever the case, the youngest man in the field took the lead from the gun, strung together two 2:35Kms, was always in control, and ran away in the final lap with a 58.5sec final tour of the track, to win by a distance in a World Cup record of 7min 41.37sec. It's not his best time, his is 7:37.30 earlier this season is a national record (as is his 13:12.05 for 5000m), but it's his biggest win to date, and it capped a mixed season, when he disappointed with only sixth in the Commonwealth 5000 in Manchester in August.
"I put in six weeks of hard training since the Commonwealth, and I decided to treat this like a cross country race, and go out hard from the start. I knew my weak point would be to sit in and wait for the sprint. I was looking at the scoreboard each lap, and could see I was getting away, so I thought, 'go hard, and go home'". It certainly worked, and it has given Mottram from Geelong in Victoria (home of World record breaking miler John Landy in the fifties), the impetus to build for next season.
This is the breakthrough that the former national junior triathlon champion has been threatening to make for the last couple of years, during which he has impressed most during the European winter season. He was the first non-African in the IAAF World Short-Course Cross Country Championships in both 2001 and 2002, and he was a finalist in the World Indoor 3000m in Lisbon. And despite a lengthy campaign abroad, he's managing to fit in studies in PR at Melbourne's Deakin University.
A neighbour back home is the teenage prodigy Georgie Clarke, and there will be the inevitable comparisons between Mottram and Georgie's distant relative, the immortal Ron Clarke, memories of whom were evoked when the tall figure of Mottram detached himself from his pursuers and galloped away from the field in a manner reminiscent of Clarke's attacks, which netted him a score of distance World records back in the 1960’s.
It would be unfair in the current climate of African 'distance' dominance to expect Mottram to achieve anything like Clarke did, but it won't be for want of trying. After his successful tactic in the Estadio Comunidad de la Peineta, Mottram signed off his 2002 season saying, "You may see me doing that a lot in the next few years". We can't wait!
Pat Butcher for the IAAF