It was the championship surprise that turned Jye Edwards from promising injury-prone junior to giant killer and to Tokyo.
Edwards chased Australia’s best runner Stewart McSweyn in the 1,500 meter final and then led him through the final stages to win his first national title and secure a spot on the Olympic team.
There were many highlights on the last day of the Olympic trials. Nicola McDermott was the first Australian to do a 2.00 m high jump.
The first wave of selection for the Olympic athletics team was announced on Sunday evening with 20 named athletes. The team for Tokyo is expected to grow to nearly 70 by the end of July.
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McDermott and Edwards as first-time Olympians include decathlete Ash Moloney, hurdler Liz Clay, sprinters Rohan Browning and Riley Day, 400-meter star Bendere Oboya, pole vaulter Nina Kennedy, 800-meter record holder Catriona Bisset, the US-based 5000-meter runner Jessica Hull and hiker Jemima Montag.
McSweyn was selected for the 5000m and 10000m but is still considering running the 1500m in Tokyo.
Discus thrower Dani Samuels, who won her 14th national record on Sunday, is going to her fourth Olympic Games with obstacle hunter Genevieve Gregson, the third.
Edwards’ breakout performance had improved this season after three years of injury problems following Achilles tendon surgery in 2017.
The 23-year-old from Canberra had never raced McSweyn before but decided early in the final that his best chance was to stay with him no matter what, as the pair were more than 20 meters from the rest of the field.
Edwards left home early to set a career best of 3 minutes 33.99 seconds ahead of McSweyn (3: 34.55 seconds).
« I had two thoughts on whether to commit or sit back, but I’m so glad I went with him, » said Edwards.
« He did all the work and I was lucky to be there 100 meters from the finish line. I was thrilled to get over the top because the hardest part was just being there.
« I thought I had a bit up my sleeve, but if you say that you’re never sure until you’ve crossed the line.
« If you’d told me that six months ago (about the Tokyo Olympics), I would have said you were crazy, absolutely crazy. It hasn’t sunk in yet. »
McDermott, 24, had threatened the magical two-meter barrier in recent years, but revealed that her inspiration on Sunday came from a Bible verse written on her wrist.
« What was written was that fearless hearts would be born in perfect love. And that is from Jesus and 1 John 4-18, » she said.
« That was my verse because I was always scared of six feet. I knew in my body that I could go much higher, but the fear aspect of high jump is what reaches you with the mind.
« Today I went out and I was like no, I’m fearless because I know that I am loved, I know that I have this, let’s go out and do it. »
McDermott’s main competitor Eleanor Patterson, who owned the Australian 1.99m record, missed the national championships due to an injury, but both jumpers will be on the plane to Tokyo.
A Gambian refugee who slept under a bridge when he arrived in Australia and ate McDonald’s out of the trash can is now the fastest 200-meter runner in the country.
But unfortunately Abdoulie Asim has no medal to show for it after he was sensationally disqualified for running off his trail in a dramatic addendum to one of the best stories of the Olympic trials.
The 28-year-old was granted asylum after representing Gambia at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
He had to live on the streets for a few weeks before seeing sprint coach John Quinn, who took him under his wing and put him on a path that culminated in the national 200m final on Sunday.
Asim has started the residency process in Australia, but it won’t be in time for the Tokyo Olympics.
« It means a lot to me because the best reason for me to stay in Australia was to continue my career and I just want to run for Australia, » he said.
« The first time I came to Australia was pretty difficult because I don’t know anything about Australia.
« But it’s okay now because I have my family here, my coach and training partners are like my family and help me a lot. »
Asim said he was afraid for his safety while sleeping under the Parramatta Bridge but was eager to start a new life.
He was cut off from his family after converting to Christianity because they were Muslim leaders in his community.
« If I stayed (on the street) to sleep it was a problem for me because I didn’t want a nightmare, » he said.
« Even sometimes in the morning (the nightmares) it came to me, I thought about what my life will be like in a paperless country, and sometimes I think about what life will be like in the future. »
Quinn, who worked at AFL clubs Essendon and the GWS Giants, said Asim had nothing when he showed up for his team’s training session at the Sydney Olympic Park.
He explained how the sprinter had hit a Queensland bus and asked to get off at Parramatta.
« When he finally got to Parramatta to meet this guy, he wasn’t there, so he didn’t leave the bus stop for two days in case the guy came, » Quinn said.
« After all, he had to go because he was starving. It didn’t take long to run out of money, so he took food out of the bins and asked people for money.
« He discovered that kids at McDonald’s often go there and leave their leftovers, so he lived on leftover McDonald’s for quite a while.
« His accommodation was under the bridge in Parramatta with the homeless and needy, where he had to fight for his place.
« Then somehow he found his way to the track and found me and has now been in my squad for over two years. »
After Asim was disqualified – he stopped the clock at 20.78 seconds – the national title went to Alex Beck (20.88 seconds) from Queensland, who won the 400-meter title on Saturday night.
Ryan Gregson predicts training partner Stewart McSweyn will surpass Craig Mottram as Australia’s best modern middle-distance runner.
The former national record holder will pursue McSweyn in the 1500 meter final on Sunday with seats on the plane to Tokyo.
While confident that he still has some magic left, the 30-year-old knows his job is designed to overthrow the rising star of Australian athletics.
« I don’t compare him to anybody else, genetically, people would look at him and say not to look like this, you think he might be a little stiff, a little thin, » explains Gregson.
“Because he’s so stiff that his body is like a carbon fiber board, he puts a little pressure on his Achilles tendon and it just springs back. He’s got an amazing body right now, he’s incredibly talented, and he’s been able to string together for five years without a break . »
Mottram rocked African dominance when he won a bronze medal at the 5000m World Championships in Helsinki in 2005, before winning a memorable silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Gregson, who finished ninth in the 2016 Rio 1500 meter final, believes McSweyn will hold his own on the world stage in the years to come.
« We obviously had Craig Mottram 15 years ago doing crazy things, » he said. « I won’t be surprised if Stewie surpasses his achievements. »
The depth of middle distance in Australia is the best in decades with six runners including another Gregson training partner, Matthew Ramsden, in the mix for three Olympic places.
« There is going to be someone who is going to miss it and it could be me, » says Gregson. « I’ll do my best to give myself an opportunity, but in Australia our milers are no worse than the British or the Americans right now, outside of the African nations, maybe Australia is the strongest.
« We had a man who reached the Olympic final four years ago and it could honestly be three, this year it sounds crazy but anything could happen.
« Obviously my camp is still behind me, but you can hear looks from outside. ‘Is Ryan finished?’ They do things like all these other guys, but I ran 3:36 the other day at Box Hill and the fastest I’ve ever run domestically is 3:35.
« There’s just insane depth right now and I’m obviously proud to be part of this resurgence in middle-distance running.
His coach almost had to bribe his mother six years ago to get approval for a decathlon, and now Ash Moloney is a medalist at the Tokyo Olympics.
Moloney was a 15-year-old high jumper when he joined Eric Brown’s training group in Brisbane, which included then-rising multi-event star Cedric Dubler.
« I came in as a high jumper with a bit of pole vaulting experience and some long and triple experience, » said Moloney.
« My coach almost bribed my mom to take me to the decathlon in Townsville in late 2015. It was a strange thing because I was petrified by the 400 and 1500, absolutely petrified and still.
« But you get out of the decathlon and actually enjoy the feeling of ending it. It’s an achievement every time. »
His success on Friday evening was his first national title with 8284 points – 109 points ahead of Dubler – and winning six of the ten events.
Both Moloney and Dubler, who finished 14th at the Olympic Games in Rio, are now confirmed starters in Tokyo with medals that are not excluded for the training partners.
« It’s a love-hate relationship, » says Moloney of the decathlon. « But when you get a PB, you love it. But if you don’t get a PB or you pushed too hard a little too soon, it can suck.
« In Tokyo I will only choose one PB. That could be 8500, it could be 8600, it could be two points better than what I did in states. »
Moloney, the U / 20 world champion, sat in Tokyo in December with an Australian record of 8492 points.
His best event is the 400 m, on which he holds the third fastest time in the history of the decathlon
« It’s my best because I have a lot of space between myself and other decathletes, » he says
During his national championship victory, he achieved better results than his record performance in December in the long jump, shot put, 110 m hurdles and 1,500 m.
His biggest fan is his main competitor Dubler, who says his 21-year-old teammate is « the next big thing » in world athletics.
« It would be interesting if you had asked me a few years ago if I was a bit of a mentor for him, » said Dubler.
« But now that he started getting me out on the track, I said we had more rivalry, but it’s very friendly.
« There is a lot of banter tossing around and it motivates us to raise the plate.
“He was incredibly talented from the start, but he just needed a little guidance. I caught him under the stands a few times eating Milo cups and maybe some fast food in his pocket as he left for training.
« My job in the beginning was to make him a little more focused and make sure he had the training support he needed to get him through these sessions.
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