National level track racing returns with a bang
If you're looking for something to inspire you, to excite you, to make you forget about the troubles of the world for a moment and experience sheer joy, Rose Davies has something for you. Watching her victory at the 2020 Zatopek:10 is something athletics fans will remember for a long long time.
In an absolutely stacked field, and in a race where everyone was open about wanting to run fast, it was the 21 year old Davies who emerged victorious. This wasn't a complete surprise - Davies has been on the radar for a couple of years, and I think we all knew she could win this race - I just didn't expect it to be this year, against this field. But that's the thing about the youth these days - they take what they want when they're ready, not when we're ready.
This race was always about trying to get as many women as close to the Olympic standard of 31:25.00 as possible. In the weeks leading up to the race, most of the main contenders (6-8 women) had essentially agreed to share the work once the pacers dropped off, with the aim of holding 31:25.00 pace for as long as possible.
Sarah Billings was given the task of setting the early pace, and didn't look at all out of position at the head of the race. If you've ever been to a Melbourne Track Club training session you would be used to seeing Billings leading her share of reps, and the opening stages of the race were no different.
Billings' ran the first 9 laps (3.6km), with kilometre splits of 3:04, 3:02. 3:05 for the first 3km (based on her Strava). Behind her, the race sorted itself out quickly. Nat Rule (second pacer), was followed by a group containing Gen Gregson (defending champion), Andrea Seccafien, Sinead Diver, Isobel Batt-Doyle, Rose Davies, and Lauren Ryan. Behind them, a second group of 3 was headed by Ellie Pashley, but this group lost touch with the leaders quickly.
When Billings finally stepped off the track after 3,600m, the job in front of Nat Rule was simple - hold pace for as long as she could. Behind her, not much had changed - Gregson, Seccafien, Diver, Ryan, Davies, and Batt-Doyle. Interestingly the more heralded athletes (Gregson, Seccafien, and Diver) were closer to the front, and that's probably how we all expected the race to play out.
Rule took the field through 4,800m in 15:13 before stepping off, job done.
From here, the race gets interesting. With the pacers gone, suddenly we see how well these women stick to their plan, and if and when tactics come into play. Gen Gregson took the pack through halfway in 15:50.66 - or about 31:40.00 pace, as the group was down to 6. We started to see some impatience from Davies, the eagerness of youth seeing her occasionally breaking formation and pulling up alongside Lauren Ryan.
Izzi Batt-Doyle was also biding her time at the back - Batt-Doyle has been in tremendous form in Adelaide over the past 6 months and the longer this race went, the better she looked.
After Gregson took the group through 6,000m, Canada's Andrea Seccafien took up duties at the front of the field as Sinead Diver started to lose contact with the group. Lauren Ryan got caught a little behind Diver and wasn't able to rejoin the front group immediately, spending the best part of a lap caught just off the back of the pack, before eventually losing contact.
With 7 laps remaining, it was again Gen Gregson on the front of the race, swapping in and out with Seccafien - the two experienced campaigners doing everything they could to pick up the pace. Eventually at around 8,200m Gregson was broken, dropped off the back of what was now a pack of 3. Seccafien in front, leading Rose Davies with Izzi Batt-Doyle sitting in prime position at the back of the pack.
Batt-Doyle made her move with just under a mile remaining, going from 3rd to 1st, as Davies responded. You could see how eager Davies was, sitting so close to Batt-Doyle that it looked at any moment like they would knock feet.
As the bell rang to signify the last lap, it was Batt-Doyle, then Davies, with Seccafien just starting to get gapped. For a moment as they approached 300m to go it looked like Batt-Doyle would streak away from Davies - until Davies passed Batt-Doyle on the inside along the back straight in a turn of events that I don't think anyone saw coming. Davies' passing move was the perfect example of 'when you pass someone, really pass them', putting in an almighty surge that ultimately closed the door on any hopes of a Batt-Doyle victory.
Davies sprinting down the finishing straight all alone, stopping the clock in 31:39.40 - a time good enough for 7th fastest Australian all-time. Davies is 21 years old. We talk (and rightly so) about Jess Hull and Stewy McSweyn as the being the future faces of Australian athletics, and they are - but from now on there simply cannot be a conversation about the future of Australian athletics that doesn't include the name Rose Davies.
"I felt really good the whole race and with 1km to go I thought 'I've got this'...
...I definitely think Tokyo is possible."