‘How good’s this?’ Australian track and field athletes revel in successful Olympics
With the Australian flag draped around her shoulders like a superhero cape, Kelsey-Lee Barber bounded towards the small contingent of journalists waiting for her deep inside the Olympic Stadium on Friday night. “How good’s this?” she exclaimed.
Barber was referring to her bronze medal in the women’s javelin, won just minutes beforehand. But her rhetorical question had wider resonance too. Tokyo 2020 has been a bumper competition for Australia’s track and field athletes – with a big day to come on Saturday.
Australia is internationally renowned for its prowess in many sports. Several notable exceptions aside, track and field events are not among them. While athletics accounts for 21 of the 150-odd gold medals won by Australia in Olympic history, second only to swimming, just four of these have come in the past three decades. Australia dominates in the pool and has traditionally been strong in rowing, sailing and cycling – on the track and in the field, Australian athletes have had less success.
It was a notable moment then, when, midway through proceedings on Friday, five Australian women were in action in athletics finals at the same time. In the javelin, Barber, Kathryn Mitchell and Mackenzie Little had all made the final eight. As they were deep in competition, the women’s 1500m final, featuring Australians Linden Hall and Jessica Hull, was run and won (Hall finished sixth, Hull 11th). “To have that many amazing athletes in the stadium – it was absolutely unreal,” said Little afterwards.
“I am so proud of the Aussie girls – the way we represented our country tonight out on the field and on the track, it’s incredible,” added Barber. “And I hope that we’ve inspired some other young girls to throw or be on track. This is a beautiful sport – and we’ve done ourselves proud.”
Barber’s bronze medal continues a positive Tokyo 2020 athletics meet for Australia. Rohan Browning became the first Australian to win a 100m heat since 1956. Just 23 and now only one one-hundredth of a second away from breaking the 10 second barrier, Browning has a bright future. Peter Bol then inspired the nation with his performances in the 800m, the first Australian to reach a final in the event since 1968. In the men’s high-jump final, Brandon Starc finished fifth.
On Thursday, Ashley Moloney became the first Australian to stand on the podium in the decathlon in Olympic history. His success was all the more special after compatriot and friend Cedric Dubler sacrificed his own race in the final event, the 1500m, to pace Moloney and scream encouragement to ensure the Australian finished close enough to a rival not to lose the bronze medal. “I could hear his voice bouncing in my cranium like a bat out of hell,” Moloney laughed afterwards.
Cedric Dubler (right) congratulates teammate Ashley Moloney after he took bronze in the decathlon. Photograph: Martin Rickett/AAP
Post-Tokyo, Australia’s athletes will regroup and then plan for the years ahead. Some will head straight to Europe for Diamond League meets, while others will endure their 14-day stint in hotel quarantine in Australia before returning to training.
They face a busy calendar. Some will contest the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Serbia next March; more will then head to Oregon in the United States for the World Athletics Championships in July 2022. Barely a week later, the Commonwealth Games will begin in Birmingham, England. From there, the two-year countdown to Paris 2024 will be underway.
“The Aussie team has really brought it to this Olympics,” said Barber. “This has got to be some of our best results across both the track and field and our race walks. Wow. Let’s just keep going – we have a young team, so that with the results we’ve seen from them, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a couple more medals in Paris.”
But first an exciting Saturday looms for Australia at the Olympic Stadium. In the women’s high jump final, Australian pair Nicola McDermott and Eleanor Patterson are both strong medal prospects; McDermott is one of just four women in the final to have cleared the two metre mark this season. In the men’s 1500m, Australian duo Oliver Hoare and Stewart McSewyn are both ranked in the top 10 in the world. McSewyn is one of only three runners in the final to have broken the 3 minutes and 30 second barrier this season.
A medal for any of the four in the final night of athletics would conclude Australia’s week at the Olympic Stadium on a high. But even if they don’t find a spot on the podium, Tokyo 2020 has been an upbeat meet for Australia’s track and field athletes. “How good’s this?” Barber had asked on Friday. Pretty good indeed.
Track & Field Day 9: Felix 4x400m relays conclude track events
RECAP | RESULTS | REPLAY
Japan’s Maeda Honami took the race out early but was reeled in by a large chase pack by the five-kilometer mark. Things spread out through 15 km though a sizeable amount of runners remained in contention. With temperatures in the mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit in Sapporo, the pace was relatively slow midway, hitting the half in 1:28:51.
Reigning world champion and world half record-holder Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya was dropped around the 31-kilometer mark as the pace finally began to pick up steam.
Then, with about six miles to go, the lead pack was reduced to five with U.S. Olympic trials runner-up Molly Seidel on lead duties. Joining her: world record-holder and four-time major winner Brigid Kosgei of Kenya; her compatriot Peres Jepchirchir, No. 5 all-time; Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, No. 7 all-time; and Bahrain’s Eunice Chumba.
Chumba was next to be dropped with about four miles remaining, then Chemtai Salpeter and Seidel not long after, leaving Kenya’s pair fighting for gold.
Salpeter stopped racing with about two and a half miles to go, putting an unlikely podium finisher Seidel in bronze-medal position.
With just over a mile to go, Jepchirchir pulled away to take the win in 2:27:20. Kosgei earned silver 16 seconds back in 2:27:36, while Seidel secured bronze 26 seconds behind in 2:27:46.
Seidel becomes the third American woman to win an Olympic marathon medal after Joan Benoit’s inaugural gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and Deena Kastor’s bronze in 2004.
It was just her third-ever marathon after making her debut in the distance at U.S. trials in winter 2020. She placed sixth later that year at the London Marathon.
Olympics live updates Allyson Felix goes for 11th medal; U.S. men’s basketball wins gold
It’s the final full day and night of competition at the Tokyo Olympics, where the medal events are fast and furious. The last track and field session of the Games at National Stadium will be highlighted by the women’s 4x400-meter relay, in which Allyson Felix will go for a U.S. record 11th track and field medal as part of a remarkably accomplished lineup that also features gold medalists Sydney McLaughlin, Dalilah Muhammad and Athing Mu. Follow along for live updates from the Games.