Is this the most exciting concept in track?
The first ever “Steigen #1” was hosted at Geelong’s Landy Field this weekend, a radical new concept developed to create greater fan interest in track racing.
Steigen, the local running accessories and apparel manufacturer, has been behind the Steigen Spectacular since 2011, a pre Christmas track meet known primarily for its 10,000m race. This year, event organisers created #1, a teams based knockout format with a player draft, coaches, and a 4 race eliminator.
Simply; 40 men and 40 women are drafted to 10 teams. Each gender races a 3000m with the top half going through to a mile, then the top half going to an 800m, before finishing with a 400m. Runners earn points towards a team prize, and also an individual cash prize for winning the final race.
The event was headlined by Australian record holder in the 1,500m Linden Hall, and on the men’s side Jordy Williamsz.
With the first 20 across the line in the 3000m going through to the mile, it was interesting to watch the strategy unfold. Up front, a group of 4 were clear after 600m, while behind them a second group had also put themselves in a safe position. There was however a huge cluster of athletes from positions 15-30, as runners looked around and tried to work out where the cut off would be and how many places they needed to move up.
Following the 3000m, the top 20 athletes had 10 minutes to get ready for the mile race. Again, it was Linden Hall and Lydia O'Donnell up the front, keen to lock in safe passage to the 800m.
Unfortunately for the TEMPO columnist, O'Donnell couldn't crack the top 5 in the 800m and was forced to watch the final 400m race from the stands.
And so, the final race. 400m for $5,000. Linden Hall was deservedly a warm favourite, but those in the know might have given 800m runner Sarah Billings a chance.
Billings took front position from the gun, and at 200m had half a metre on Hall. As the two came roaring up the straight Billings held her nerve, collecting the $5,000 and capping off a big week - she also graduated university on Thursday. Hall collected $2,500 for second place.
Up next was the men's race. Jordy Williamsz, Lachie Barber, Sam McEntee, and Sydney's Will Austin-Cray all promising to add some spark to this one.
It was McEntee, the Rio Olympian in the 5000m, who decided to spice things up from the jump, launching a long range attack one lap into the 3000m.
After Sam McEntee had his fun in the 3000m, surely the mile would see a more typical racing strategy, right? Wrong. McEntee again launched off the front as early as possible, ensuring that regardless of who won the 400m race at the end, he would go home as The People's Champ.
Lachie Barber saw his first bit of action in the 800m race, immediately going to the front and assuring himself safe passage to the final race of the evening - where newly crowned (by me) People's Champ Sam McEntee was still in the race.
All the pressure leading into the 400m was on Jordy Williamsz, especially after his partner won the women's race. Keen to make sure he could hold his own on the car ride back to Melbourne, Williamsz did not disappoint, taking a well deserved win.
So, what to say about this new concept? Steigen #1 provided fast paced, high energy track racing. We spoke to at least 15 of the competing athletes about the format at the track, and all of them had only positive things to say.
It wasn't perfect, but that only means there's room to make next year's event bigger and better. It was refreshing to see an Australian track race place so much importance on all stakeholders - from the athletes, to the fans, to the sponsors. Long may it continue.