Three-time Olympic medallist Jared Tallent remains on top of the Australian Road Walk scene after a commanding win in the Australian & Oceania 20km Championships, part of the 2013 IAAF Race Walking Challenge, in Hobart on Sunday morning (24).
Both behind Tallent and around him, however, the Australian walking scene is changing as a result of operational changes at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), home base for the highly successful national walks program for almost 30 years, in the wake of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The changes, under which the AIS will move broadly from in situ scholarship programs to a role as a hub servicing the sport, have seen Tallent’s former coach Brent Vallance move to Melbourne and Tallent himself will shortly move to Adelaide with his wife, Claire Tallent, who has taken on the coaching role.
However, none of these upheavals appear to be having any impact on Tallent, at least not on the evidence of Sunday’s race around the picturesque Hobart waterfront.
Tallent dominated from start, breaking away after just three kilometres, to win a sixth consecutive national 20km title in 1:22:10.
“Another win in the 20km event, I’m very happy with that. It’s my first race in a long time and makes be pretty excited heading into another race in China this coming Friday.
“My wife Claire and I are making some pretty big changes this year by moving to Adelaide soon and also with her taking over as my coach. It’s been a good move for me so far, I am stoked to have her there with me every session and her support is insurmountable.”
Behind Tallent, indeed just 17 seconds behind him at the finish after closing the gap on Tallent over the final four kilometres, came 20-year-old Queenslander Dane Bird-Smith, who almost certainly secured selection for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow this summer with an impressive personal best of 1:22:17.
“I’m just amazed. I wanted to come down here to show myself and the walking community that I am capable of a time that earns me a spot for World championships and hopefully today’s performance is a big step in the right direction for making that a reality,” said Bird-Smith.
“Moscow will be a real dream. If I can bring my time down closer towards a 1:22:00 flat I am certain that I could challenge for a top-16 finish and for someone my age that would be a fantastic result. (There is) plenty of work to do for that to happen though.”
Bird-Smith is coached by his father, Dave Smith, who represented Australia in the walks at the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games.
Luke Adams was third in 1:23:48, and also under the Moscow A-standard, while fourth-place finisher Chris Erickson got the B-standard in 1:25.15.
Tallent (and Adams, who won the 50km selection race last December) will most likely walk just one event in Moscow where the schedule places the two walk races just two days apart.
Although he is heading for China and the next leg of the IAAF Race Walk Challenge in Taicang on Friday, Tallent’s Moscow focus in on the longer event.
“For me 2013 is centred around the 50km event at the World Championships,” Tallent said. “I want a gold medal to sit alongside the silver and bronzes that I have won and by focusing in on a single event I am confident that could be a possibility. The program in Moscow makes it very hard to do both.”
Claire Tallent’s absence from the women’s event ensured there would be a different winner for the first time in three years. It has been a Tallent husband-wife double in the past three editions of the championship.
Holliday shines in the sun
Tanya Holliday, 24, shared the lead early with Regan Lamble, Australia’s leading finisher in both the 2011 World Championships and the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Lamble withdrew soon afterwards at five kilometres to leave Holliday to walk on unchallenged to the national title.
She crossed the line in 1:34:32, over three minutes outside her personal best but good enough to secure selection for Moscow, ahead of Chery Webb, who also bettered the A-standard with 1:35:46.
In third place, Rachel Tallent, Jared’s younger sister, bettered the B-standard with 1:36:50.
It was a bittersweet result for Holliday, a former IAAF World Youth Championships representative.
“I’m happy to have won, but I am really disappointed with the time,” she said. “At least I now know that I will be in the team for World Championships, but if I want to be in the mix I need to move quicker.
“I don’t want to sound overly disappointed though because making my first open Australian team is a real honour. It’s something I have been working towards for many years and I am so happy that it will happen in 2013.”
In the junior 10km events, 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships representative Brad Aiton won the men’s under 20 event in 43:27, as Nathan Brill recorded another qualifier for the IAAF World Youth Championships this summer in finishing second in 43:46.
Len Johnson for the IAAF