Jordan Gusman has finally found the environment for success
Who is Jordan Gusman? Despite being a national champion and someone who has been at the upper end of the Australian racing scene for the last few years, it’s a question a lot of people struggle with. As an outsider, generally we look to put people in boxes - this person is the underdog, this person is arrogant, this one is the loveable Aussie larrikin. But when you meet the people you’re labelling it usually becomes quickly apparent that, of course, such labels are misguided and generally do a massive disservice to the individual.
This couldn’t be more true for the 25 year old from Corindi Beach on the northern coast of New South Wales. Gusman attracts a surprising amount of outside comment for someone who says so little. Mostly, ‘Goose’ as he’s known, goes about his work in the shadows - when he’s here in Australia he trains in obscurity with his brother, and when he’s in the US with his group Tinman Elite, he flies under the radar behind bigger personalities like Drew Hunter and Sam Parsons. If Tinman Elite were Wu-Tang, Goose would be one of the lesser appreciated but still brilliant MC’s like Inspectah Deck, where Hunter and Parsons might be Ghostface and Raekwon respectively (before you blow up my inbox, Tinman coach Tom Schwartz would be RZA).
In case you didn’t know, Goose has skills - he set his 5,000m PR of 13:21.35 at Payton Jordan in May this year, and qualified for the World Championships in Doha (he didn’t compete in Doha, forced to miss the meet with injury). Oh, he’s also the Australian champion in the 5,000m - a title not a lot of experts thought he could claim in 2019, and with his switch to Malta being confirmed recently, the 2019 Championships ended up being his last opportunity.
“I don’t think anyone thought I could beat Stewy (McSweyn). It was pretty special to go in as the underdog, knowing it was the last time I would ever race for an Australian title, to finally win one.”
Trying to pin down Gusman’s roots is tough. His story reads like something of a drifter; he grew up in New South Wales, has spent time in Canberra and the Gold Coast, moved to Melbourne in 2018, spends a lot of his time in Boulder with Tinman Elite, and recently switched his athletics allegiance from Australia to Malta to honour a promise he made his late grandfather.
But to drift is to be carried along without meaning or direction, where Gusman is the opposite. Packing up a life and moving for running takes courage, and each move Goose has made has been to make him better, but none have been as bold as the decision he made to move to Boulder, Colorado.
“I met Drew (Hunter, the founding athlete @ Tinman Elite) in Europe in 2017, and this was before Tinman was a thing, and he told me he was planning to buy a house in Boulder, and when he did I was welcome anytime. I found out later he says that to everyone he meets, so it wasn’t as special as I thought it was!”
After a 2018 season that was derailed by near constant illness or injury, Gusman knew something needed to change. Spending time with his family on the Gold Coast, he reached out to Hunter and Sam Parsons about Tinman.
“Over a couple week period I spoke to Drew and Sam a few times, and even to Tom (the coach) a bit and understood his training principles. And they said to me ‘show us you’re committed, show us you really want to be part of this group’. So I just booked a flight. I think they were a little shocked.”
“I didn’t really know what to expect, I turned up at Drew’s house and they were like five of the guys there - it was a lot smaller back then. I had a few good workouts early on and it just went from there.”
"(The guys at Tinman) said to me, ‘show us you’re committed, show us you really want to be part of this group’. So I just booked a flight. I think they were a little shocked.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Gusman showed that his national title in April was no fluke, following up with his PR of 13:21.35 at Payton Jordan in early May. From there, he really became one of the Tinmen, going from obscurity to seeing high school kids show up at meets with posters.
“The best one was a kid who had a giant cut out of my face on a goose body. That was funny.”
Gusman’s decision to represent the small island nation of Malta over Australia was not based on finding an easier path to the world stage through wildcards - as Gusman points out, he was already qualified for the World Championships for Australia.
The switch to Malta was honouring a promise Gusman made to his late grandfather, Frank, a first generation immigrant to Australia. As Gusman started to show talent as a junior, he promised Frank that one day he would represent Malta - a promise that became more pressing as Frank’s health deteriorated due to a fight with cancer.
So after winning a national title in Australia in early April, by the end of May Gusman was wearing the colours of Malta at the little known Games of the Small States of Europe.
“Honestly my pop was probably too sick at that point that I actually got to run for Malta to realise what was going on. I know it made him so happy when he first found out that I was transferring.”
"The only other promise I made to my family was that when I won an Olympic gold medal I would buy my dad a Porsche. So I don’t think I’ll have to honour that one!.”
As the page turns on the biggest year of Gusman’s career so far; a year that included a national title, a World Championships berth, switching national representation, moving from Australia to the USA, losing a family member, and no doubt much more, Gusman is all eyes ahead.
First up, and because Gusman doesn’t like doing things the easy way, he’s eyeing a tilt at the World Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China in March. The main issues to overcome here are his indoor racing experience (he has none) and the number of accessible indoor tracks to train on in Boulder, Colorado where he will be based (there are none). That doesn’t mean Goose doesn’t have lofty goals for the meet.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to run on the world stage yet, so I want to go there and make the final. I want to prove to myself that I can mix it with the best in the world.”
It feels strange to suggest 2019 was a ‘settled’ year for Gusman, but it’s also hard to argue with results. The key thing I take from my conversations with Goose is that he prioritises being happy above all else (things that bring him happiness include but are not limited to - gardening, his girlfriend, and his dog). And as he seems happy and content with his season and his plans, 2020 looms as a massive opportunity.
You may never understand Jordan Gusman, but I hope you appreciate the dedication.