Her first National Title won't be her last
National Championships are always exciting - they generally bring out the best of the best, pitting training partners and friends against each other for the right to call themselves Australia’s best. Our icons collect national titles like stamps - Cathy Freeman won 6 x 400m national titles, Craig Mottram won 5 x 5000m national titles in a row, Ryan Gregson has won 4 x 1500m titles, and the list goes on.
And just as the holding of a National Championships is exciting, the emergence of a new national champion is equally as thrilling. Maybe even more so when the Champ is a first timer and just 21 years old. And this was the case on January 26th in Melbourne when Rose Davies won the Zatopek:10 in what was a remarkable victory. It wasn’t a slow, tactical championship style race, nor was Davies competing against second string athletes - and that’s what makes Davies’ win so special. It genuinely feels like we saw the arrival of Australia’s next big talent - we’re fortunate to have witnessed the emergence of names like Stewy McSweyn, Jess Hull, and Jaryd Clifford over the past couple of years, and while those are some big names, it’s not unrealistic to assume we’ll be talking about Rose Davies in the same light in the next 18-24 months.
I caught up with Davies in the days after the race and asked her if the win was a shock to her.
“I knew it was a possibility that I could win, but I also knew I would have to run my best possible race to win. I was nervous because I knew it would be quite fast, so I knew it would be hard, but yeah…I did believe I could win.”
Davies came into the race in good form. In December she narrowly missed out on winning the Launceston 10 (losing to Gen Gregson), clocking a ~80 second PR to finish in 32:02. A 32:02 on the roads generally hints at a faster time on the track, but to take another 20 seconds off that time in 6 weeks is seriously impressive; Davies’ 31:39.97 is the 7th fastest Australian 10,000m time ever.
The average age of the 6 women to have run faster times when they ran them is 31 years old. Davies ran her time at 21.
With the Olympic standard set at 31:25, does it now provide a target to aim at?
“Obviously I need the right race (to run 31:25), but I definitely think there’s a bit left there.
I felt so good for so long during that race.”
“It has changed my goals for the year. The Olympics weren’t really on the cards for me - obviously I would love to make it but that wasn’t the be all and end all. There’s Paris in 2024 and that was the main goal.
Now I know it’s possible…”
Watching the race on replay last week (you only see so much when you watch it live), I wrote in our recap piece about the ‘eagerness of youth’; that several times in the second half of the race, Davies would break formation and pull alongside her competitors, rather than sit behind them. At other times, it looked as though Davies had to avoid tripping over the legs in front of her - another sign she was looking for the pace to lift.
“I think a few times when the pace was dropping or the pack changed, I was just thinking ‘c’mon, let’s get going’. I had to tell myself to be patient.”
That’s not to say Rose had the race all her own way and didn’t go through dark periods. After the pacers dropped at the 5k mark, it was mostly the more experienced competitors who took turns on the front - Olympians Andrea Seccafien and Gen Gregson, and marathoner Sinead Diver.
So at the age of 21, surrounded by women you look up to, women who have been to the mountaintop before, who have achieved the things you want to achieve, how do you not only stay in the race but have the poise to make the right decisions?
“My coach (Scott Westcott) said there would be a rough patch and it won’t last the whole race. At about 7km I was starting to feel it, I think we were down to 4 of us by then. Then Andrea put in a surge and I just had to tell myself to hold on - that it would only be 100m or so and then it would go back to the pace it was on.”
“Within the last 800m I had to keep telling myself to wait and be patient. Then at 250 I saw Izzi go wide and I just went for it and didn't look back!”
“With 100m to go I finally knew I had it. I could just tell, and I still felt so strong and like I was grinding it out.”
Davies crossed the line with a wide smile and her arm raised triumphantly, and was almost immediately congratulated by the two pacers (and Davies’ close friends) Sarah Billings and Natalie Rule. The people most in Davies’ mind however, were her parents Helen and Paul, who like most athletics parents, have sacrificed a lot so Davies can follow her dream.
“They give up so much for me - so it feels so special to have won and to see all that hard work be worth it. I was happy for them. Mum was crying and I think dad might have even shed a tear!”
While 2021 is shaping up as another interrupted year - international racing is still not ‘back’, and Davies will find it hard to find a lot of races overseas, she will undoubtedly carry a new confidence through the rest of 2021. Competitors will look to her to carry the work during championship races, and any moves Davies makes will be watched closely.
If Davies continues to flourish, now armed with the confidence gained from winning, it might not matter how closely her rivals watch her - but just make sure that you do, for we could very well be seeing Australia’s next star develop right in front of us.