Racing down the home straight fifty metres from victory Nathan Deakes suddenly burst into tears. It was neither as a result of the effort involved in walking 50 kilometres in 3:43:53 nor the warm temperatures that caused so many of his competitors to fold. Rather he was realising his dream.
Personal, professional sacrifices pave the way to gold
“As most athletes do, you make a lot of sacrifices to get here and I was just thinking about all those sacrifices I made,” said the 30-year-old Australian, “and everybody that has helped me in my support group, with my wife, my coach, my family. The emotion just sort of happened involuntarily. It was something that every athlete dreams about, becoming a World champion, and the realisation that I was about to achieve it, like I said, it just happened involuntarily.”
In February 2006 Deakes beat the World record for the 50km Race Walk (3:35:47) just three days after sitting a tax law exam. He is studying towards a double degree in law and banking and finance, so, he says, he has “something to fall back on.” This past June, the height of the competitive season, he completed a 10,000 word thesis on the Court for Arbitration in Sport which looks at some of its landmark doping cases. Combining this with weeks where he covers 240 kilometres in training can test one’s nerves considerably.
His wife Antoinette, a first generation Italian-Australian, agreed to take a year off work so the couple could go to Europe where most of the race walking competition takes place. They have been renting an apartment in Tuscany.
IAAF World Champions earn $60,000 US, a small fortune for a race walker without any sponsorship.
“This year we have been living on our savings. So this (world championship prize money) is the only way we can make money,” he reveals. “It’s going to be an enormous help. It’s going to be fantastic for us. By coming over to Europe we put a lot of other things on hold. We are paying a mortgage back home and rent in Europe. Hopefully the money will ease financial constraints the next twelve months leading into Beijing.”
Despite status as World record holder, no pre-race pressure
Deakes reckons his race went according to plan except for the fact he found himself in the lead a little earlier than he wanted. But he really didn’t feel the pressure of being the World record holder.
“The only pressure I felt was self expectations,” he explains. “I think the Australian team, we always knew that the back end of the championships was the time when we would win medals.”
“I think a lot of the focus has been on Craig Mottram and Jana Rawlinson the last few days so that has allowed me to do my own job and concentrate on the race. In terms of pressure, being the World record holder is really one of the more flattering things standing on the start line it might intimidate a few of the athletes more so than anything.”
‘Anything I can do for my sport, I will do’
Suddenly he is the toast of Australia. Being in the limelight doesn’t necessarily thrill him and he is evidently not one to seek it either. But he is happy to be in a position to help Australian athletics.
“Racewalking is not a big sport in Australia,” he admits, “but hopefully just with Jana winning the other night, and myself, it will put athletics on the front page. Anything I can do for my sport I will do. I need to promote my sport.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF