One of New Zealand's most popular athletes is set for Tokyo
There’s no such thing as an Olympic athlete being ‘lucky to be there’. The qualification standards are understandably hard to reach, and if that’s not enough you’re often battling your training partners for spots on the team.
At a deeper level, you need the right races - especially for middle and distance athletes. What is the right race? It’s generally on a fast track, at the right time of the season, with a field of accomplished athletes who are motivated to run a quick time.
Then, you need to marry up a fitness peak with these fast races - fitness and form are impermanent, sometimes even fleeting - especially when it comes to achieving results good enough to qualify for the Olympics.
So it really is no wonder athletes celebrate just making the team, or get the Olympic rings tattooed on their bodies; a permanent reminder when their bodies grow old and their memories fade, of the heights they once reached.
It feels strange to write about Camille Buscomb making her Olympic debut later this year in Tokyo. Strange because you would swear an athlete of her calibre and world experience would be an Olympic veteran by now.
That is about to change however, after Buscomb was officially named to the New Zealand Olympic team in the 5,000m and 10,000m back in April.
“I have been training for this moment for so many years, and at times I have been so incredibly far from making it that I think there were a few years where I really didn't know if I would ever get there. Years seemed to be flying by and I wasn't improving enough.”
After missing the qualification for Rio by 4 seconds in the 5,000m, Buscomb knew she had to make a change - deciding to join Nic Bideau and the Melbourne Track Club in the search for a breakthrough.
“I would have to say that since joining Nic and the group at the end of 2016 things have really picked up for me. I felt like the team around me that I have now has really made a big difference and I feel each step is much more purposeful and the training and racing calendar also has a lot more purpose.
Nic believes a lot in his athletes and his own ability as a coach, so I also think that played a huge role over the last few years for me. He never saw making a team as a particularly big achievement in itself, rather it was how you performed when you got there that made the difference and what really meant something.”
"I would say that it is with a mix of emotions, and one that I really am so happy and excited to be finally representing NZ at an Olympic Games. Each person's journey is so incredibly unique, it just took for me until I was 30 to achieve this!"
Buscomb has vast experience racing on the world stage. She really hit the global circuit in 2016 in an attempt to qualify for Rio, racing 7 5,000m races in 6 countries over a 4 month period. And while Buscomb competed in the London World Championships in 2017, it was the Doha World Champs in 2019 where she broke through,
Buscomb competed in both the 5,000m and the 10,000m, with the 10,000m up first. Buscomb ran a 31:13.21 - a 20 second PR from a time she ran months earlier in the US. For context, only 2 Australian women have ever run faster than this.
Four days later, Buscomb lined up in the heats of the 5,000m, and ran 15:02.19 - a 7 second PR. If that wasn’t enough, 3 days later in the final she ran 14:58.59 (again, for local context - 3 Australian women have run faster than this).
By the time Tokyo rolls around, almost 2 years will have passed since the meet in Doha - but some of the lessons from Doha will stay with Buscomb.
“I am so happy with my performances in Doha. I finally felt that I was able to give my best at an event that actually mattered. There is something to be said about peaking at the right time and when it matters. So many races I would get sick right beforehand, or be burnt out, or even underdone. I felt that I was able to get it right at the right time.”
“I definitely learnt a lot from Doha, and I would say the main thing was to enjoy the moment. I loved each time I stepped out on the track, each time I laced up I was eager for the gun to go and give my best. I have really kept this going as I have approached races since then.”
No one had it easy in 2020; it was the year of lost opportunity, but also a year where life meant more than running. For Buscomb, it was also a chance to reconnect with her home city of Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island, a place she finds herself spending less and less time in each year.
“It was great being in New Zealand over covid as after our lockdown was lifted we were really free to move around the country, however, I don't have a proper base there so it was really just a matter of doing all I could do each day to better myself so that I felt ready when the time came that I could join my group again and travel and compete again.”
Buscomb is also grateful for the extra time 2020 gave her to spend with her fiancé, Cameron French - NZ’s national record holder in the 400mH. The pair got engaged in 2020 after being together for a decade.
“Cam has been there from the very start when I wanted to take my athletics to the next level. I was running about 17:30 for a 5k when we met and we’ve been able to have fun along the way whilst also chasing our own personal goals and ambitions.
He’s been someone who has always believed in me, but allowed me to be me and find what works. Having someone in my corner who I can trust has my best interests at heart and constantly pushes me to be my best.”
Spending time away from home is a reality for any successful athlete; finding the right races is, as mentioned, a critical part of the job. Buscomb is also acutely aware of her role in representing her country; New Zealand only sent 4 female track athletes to the Rio games (+2 field athletes), so the responsibility is not one Buscomb takes lightly - especially as at the time of writing, Buscomb is the only female runner on the New Zealand team for Tokyo.
“I am so excited to be representing NZ at the Olympic Games.
Athletics isn't a big sport in New Zealand so if you aren't winning medals at the Olympics you aren't seen as being overly successful. It is such a small country and the competition is really limited. There isn't a lot of support offered so bridging the gap between being a junior to a senior can be really challenging. Races are limited, funding is scarce and so is sponsorship.
I would say that I have felt more support in the last year or so, but before that it has been very limited. I hope that I can inspire some younger athletes and show them that kiwis can make it on the world stage, and a dream can become a reality if you want it badly enough.”
“My teammates and coach are all role models for me, so I hope that there are some in the next generation that will see what I am doing and that it will give them confidence to go after what they want.”
Buscomb is coming off arguably the best preparation of her career. After staying in New Zealand to race the domestic track season (where she won 2 national titles - in the 1500m and the 5000m), Buscomb came to Melbourne for a 2 month block with her Melbourne Track Club teammates.
It was an important period for Buscomb, not just to run big workouts and set up her international season, but to be around other top-level athletes again - where some days you’re on top of the session and some days you’re hanging off the back.
“The group is really strong, so it has made each session really challenging. I love that I am constantly pushed when I am with the group. The accelerator is always on, and everyone is always getting after it. I had a really solid block, with high mileage, 3 sessions per week, fast long runs and plenty of double runs, but it is exactly what I needed.”
As the moment finally approaches, and Camille Buscomb prepares to compete in her first Olympic Games, it’s the realisation of a dream. But it’s also much more than that. It’s validation - not just for Camille but for everyone around her, and for all the young people who approach her for photos at track meets back in New Zealand. As a new generation of kids in New Zealand huddle around the TV to watch the Tokyo Olympics, they’ll have one more Kiwi to cheer for.