Susie Power in the 2001 Zatopek 10,000m (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Melbourne, Australia

Australia’s New Power on the Track

Australia’s New Power on the Track
Mike Hurst for the IAAF
10 December 2001 - For the first time ever on the track, Australia looks to have a potential female distance running world-beater in Susie Power.

The forceful front-running style of her victory in the 41st annual Emil Zatopek Classic 10,000m race last Thursday night (December 6) has stunned even the Australian athletics community.

Power, 26, who became a mother last December, missed the last Australian domestic season and therefore failed to qualify for the Edmonton world championships.

But her intentions became clear in September in Brisbane when she ran a huge personal best of 31:50.36 to win the bronze medal, 2 seconds behind Ethiopian winner Derartu Tulu in the 10,000m at the Goodwill Games.

Then she took a quantum leap last Thursday when she ran 31:26.34 to win the Zatopek 10,000m in water-logged and wintery (10C degrees) Melbourne.

In a virtual exhibition, Power ran the fourth fastest time in the world in 2001 - and 22sec faster than Sydney Olympic gold medallist Tulu clocked to lead an Ethiopian medal sweep in Edmonton in August.

The equivalent in distance of 22sec at that running speed is more than the length of the stadium straight.

In atrocious weather conditions - and underscoring a dominance rarely seen at this level - Power lapped every other competitor at least once, including two-time Olympians, Kerryn McCann, who took second in 33:06.28, and Natalie Harvey (33:23.56) with former triathlon world champion Jackie Gallagher finishing seventh in 34:11.51.

On top of that, Power was just recovering from a chest virus, still hasn’t done any track training and she didn’t bother to race in spikes.

“I’ll wear spikes in my next race which will be in January at the Australian team trials for the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships in Dublin in late March,” Power decided yesterday.

“I want a medal in Dublin.

“I’m still in the general preparation phase and I’ll continue building my strength through to the world cross-country titles.

“I’m not getting carried away with what I’ve run. I’m still looking at Paula Radcliffe and Derartu Tulu who have run a minute quicker than me, so I’m trying to catch up that minute.

“Hopefully I’ll do that in Europe next year.”

If she can win a medal in Dublin it will be a watershed occasion for Australia.

Perhaps because they could never win a medal there, great athletes like Robert de Castella, Lisa Ondieki and Steve Moneghetti rate the World Cross-Country Championship as the toughest race of all.

That’s because everybody competes. You get the track specialists and the road specialists who might meet nowhere else except at the world cross-country, Moneghetti has often said.

To date, Moneghetti’s fourth at Stavangar in 1989 (and Jackie Perkins’ fifth in the women’s race the same year) remain Australia’s best results.

Since 1973 when the IAAF began organising the annual event, medals have been distributed among athletes from 28 countries.

Even close Commonwealth allies Canada and New Zealand have won eight medals each, but the cross-country coin remains conspicuously absent from Australia’s trophy cabinet.

With Power in such rare form already and confident of improving, she appears to have an excellent chance of winning an individual medal and perhaps helping Australia to a team medal in the shorter race in Dublin.

She will enter for both the 4km and 8km individual races and decide later whether to double.

Like Olympic gold medallists Debbie Flintoff-King (400m hurdles) and Kathy Watt (cycling) before her, Power has emerged from rural Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula with ambitions to become a global force in her sport.

She will race against 2001 world track championship 5000m finalist Benita Willis, 21, of Mackay, Queensland, for the national 5000m title at Melbourne’s IAAF Grand Prix II meeting on March 7.

Another Victorian country runner, Geelong’s Craig Mottram, 21, won the men’s Zatopek 10,000m in 28:19.26 in his track debut over the 25-lap distance.

In only his third season in athletics, 188cm tall Mottram was a 1500m semi-finalist in Edmonton, although Australia’s former 5000m and 10,000m world record-holder Ron Clarke believes Mottram’s future is at 5000m.

Clarke predicted: “Eventually I think his best event will be the 5000m. He’ll run well under 13mins for 5000m - I’m talking 12min 50sec.”

While Mottram and Power are both aiming to break Australian records in the 5000m at the Melbourne GP, Mottram will run still 1500m at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in July.

Power is aiming to run either the 5000m or 10,000m - or both - in Manchester.

She looks capable of challenging for gold in either, although England’s Paula Radcliffe heads this year’s 10,000m world and Commonwealth rankings with her 30:55.80.

Power insisted: “I wouldn’t be afraid to come up against her. Most races she’d lead and I’m not afraid to do the same thing.

“I’m hoping one day to be able to battle it out with her.”

Mike Hurst for the IAAF