A big 2021 and beyond for Australia's golden couple
As they head to Europe for another season, Gen and Ryan Gregson have all the calm confidence you would expect from a couple who have each been to two Olympic Games.
Gen would appear to be in some of the best shape of her career. As well as winning the national title in the steeple in April and qualifying for her 3rd Olympics, Gregson has shown great range from 1500m to 10,000m over the past 18 months - winning national titles in the 3,000m (2021) and 10,000m (2019) over that period.
"I think due to the fact that I’m healthy, it has allowed me to be up and about during the domestic season. I have been able to race as much as I want to. I do love to test myself over different distances so I can work on every aspect of my fitness."
To highlight some of Gen's work this season, she won the Launceston 10 road race in December 2020, finished 3rd in the national 1500m championship, won the national 3000m championship, and won the steeple national championship. Gen also placed 3rd at this year's 10,000m titles.
"The last time I showed this range and consistency was 2016 so I would have to say I’m as fit as I have ever been."
As Gen prepares for her 3rd Olympics (London 2012 feels like a lifetime ago, and Gen's infamous moment at the Glasgow 2014 games does too!), her expectations have naturally changed.
And while Gregson was obviously fit last year, she knows there are levels of fitness that can only be achieved through consistent mileage.
"I think I have been blessed with this extra year. I was fit last year however I was only just getting used to the higher mileage. Over the last 12 months I am now more confident in my body’s health, layered more fitness, and practiced getting better at a few of my past weaknesses."
And as for Tokyo? This is not London, it's not Rio. With around 10 years experience on the world stage, Gregson has a different mindset.
"Tokyo is a business trip and I’m going there with high expectations. I think I can be top 6 if I continue on this path and with it being my 3rd Olympics - I have experience on my side."
For Ryan, 2021 has been about chipping away and following a process. He started the year at Falls Creek, and since racing started he seemed to get better each race. Still, the two-time Olympian and one of Australia's most decorated 1500m runners knows he has work to do as he gets on a plane to Europe.
"I do take a bit longer to get going, however my 1500m races have gotten better throughout the season."
"Domestically, the times I have ran have been on par with what I have done before some of my best European seasons so I am excited to see my progression over the next couple of months."
While the 2021 domestic season has been highlighted by Jye Edwards, and Olli Hoare has put together a string of impressive performances in the US, Gregson may take some inspiration from training partner Dave McNeill; who just posted a 13:12.82 qualifying time for the 5,000m, putting him on track to run at his 3rd Olympic games.
As the couple head to Europe now to continue their season, they're determined to make the most of every racing opportunity; especially as competition steps up a level from the domestic circuit.
"We look at how the world has been for over a year now so we never take racing for granted. We can’t wait to head over to Europe and begin our international season and take advantage of some great opportunities.
Travelling overseas has always been the highlight of our year - we've been doing it as a couple since 2012!"
Many experts regard Europe as the true testing ground; a step up and a different style of racing from the US scene, running well in Europe is regarded as the best prep for Olympic competition.
One thing I've been impressed by when watching both Ryan and Gen over the last two domestic seasons is their class. Whether it's experience or professionalism, or just because they're both big sports fans, I'm not sure - but the way they handle themselves on the track speaks volumes.
Gen is often vocal at the start of a domestic race - she'll be the last person to speak before the officials take charge, often reminding her (mostly younger) competitors to race safely and not do anything crazy.
Ryan, too, makes his presence felt. At the conclusion of what was a stunning 1,500m national final in Sydney in April, Jye Edwards had defied the tipsters and taken some huge scalps - not only defeating Stewy McSweyn, but also Matt Ramsden who was tipped to be a contender, and obviously Gregson himself.
My memories are hazy from that afternoon but one thing I remember clearly amongst the roars of the fans and the hunched over carnage of the athletes at the finish line is Gregson making his way to Edwards, hand outstretched. As the two shook hands, Gregson said "Jye, congratulations mate, and well done. Fantastic effort, enjoy it."
There's a similar story about Gregson and the 19 year old Jude Thomas which you can read here.
Is Ryan the only athlete to congratulate a competitor? Of course not, but these are just a couple of examples of the small things you notice being out on the track, or watching training sessions, over months and years.
I do wonder if these traits are the things you learn in Europe, or the things you learn over a 10+ year international career.
Finally, Ryan and Gen now head to Europe with fresh kicks on their feet and a brand new race kit, having recently signed with Puma, to become arguably the biggest local signings for the global sportswear giant.
Puma have been making big moves over the past 6 months, signing a host of international athletes; Olympics bound marathoner Molly Seidel, pole vaulter Sandi Morris, and Aisha Praught-Leer, just to name a few. And now, as well as snagging hurdles superstar Liz Clay, they've bagged Australia's most recognisable athletes.
"This is such an exciting time for us. Puma have traditionally been at the forefront of sprinting however they have made a recent commitment to be the leaders in distance running too.
This is why we are passionate about joining Puma and being a part of a brand that is making major inroads into the shoe game, and will use their athletes to give them valuable feedback."
Look for Ryan and Gen to be killing it overseas in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics, and keep an eye out for the next column from Ryan - you can read his first piece for TEMPO here.