Year One of On Track Nights
As a famous honorary Australian once asked, “Are you not entertained?” Now, we’re not saying there will be blood at this year’s Zátopek:10 but, with it becoming the fifth event in the inaugural On Track Nights series, we are expecting to hear a roar from the crowd that’s fit for a colosseum.
Held already in Los Angeles, London, Paris and Vienna, the On Track Nights series is part of the Swiss running brand’s goals to energise the sport of running by searching out authentic track events and injecting them with a festival buzz.
“What we’re trying to find with On Track Nights are races that are very close to the community … they always have something unique already.”
Jean-Philippe Pokern, On
In Melbourne, this year’s Zátopek:10 will be headlined by ARIA-winners Peking Duk, alongside DJ sets from Paris Lawrence and Piero. Partnering with the event’s host body Athletics Victoria, On is adding opportunities for community participation alongside top-level elite races featuring some of the world’s best athletes. Food trucks, flash tattoos, an over-the-track bridge and infield cheer zone, fireworks. There’s no need for fans to settle for the sidelines when they can stand above the action and feel the rush as athletes zoom beneath their feet.
In Melbourne for Zátopek:10, On’s head of marketing for the APAC region, Jean-Philippe Pokern, talked about how On Track Nights came to be and what the brand is aiming for.
“For many, running is an individual pursuit. But I think we’ve always looked at it more as a truly community sport,” Jean-Philippe says.
“What we’re trying to find with On Track Nights are races that are very close to the community or are carried by the community. So, they always have something unique already, and the Zátopek:10 is a great example, right? It has an iconic name, there’s so much to it – there’s so much equity and heritage.”
(Tempo contributor Sheridan Wilbur has written a great history of how this 62-year-old Melbourne event came to be named after a Czech running legend; it’s a moving story of international friendship transcending the Cold War’s Iron Curtain.)
For On, already having the On Athletics Club in the United States, Europe and now Australia was a reason to believe the time was right for a new approach to running events.
“We had this proof point internally which was the OAC,” Jean-Philippe says. “The individual athletes in the team are racing by themselves, but if you see their team spirit, they really run for each other. Like if you saw Hellen Obiri running the New York marathon, there was a big cheer squad from the OAC team itself.”
“So we felt there’s a change happening in running where it’s that team spirit coming to life. We said, ‘Okay, how can we celebrate that and give back to the community during this phase of change?’"
Athletics Victoria CEO Matthew Duck recognises the running community’s stake in Zátopek:10 and welcomes the support from On. Sharing a similar vision for athletic events, he hopes the new partnership can restore the event to the popularity it unquestionably deserves.
“We’re very proud of the Zátopek:10. The event, based largely on its history, has always maintained an element of prestige and lustre. But certainly the numbers have dwindled a little bit over recent years, not helped by Covid. That’s changed this year. The level of excitement and anticipation leading into this Zátopek:10 – largely on the back of On’s contribution to the event – is unlike anything we’ve seen before,” Duck says.
“We were inspired by Night of the 10,000m PBs, which has grown over the past decade to become one of the biggest nights in the British racing calendar,” Jean-Philippe continues. “With the music, the festival atmosphere and the way that fans can get so close to the runners, we thought, ‘Hey, this is exactly what the community appreciates.' We want to try and make sure that the athletes are performing in the best possible environemnts.”
“From an athlete perspective, we hope that this excitement will carry them further, to different levels and faster times. Also, we have our local OAC Oceania team competing in all these events. For some of them, who are just emerging as professional athletes, it’s giving them the experience, the feeling and atmosphere, of what a pro athlete life could look like.”
Rising OAC star Claudia Hollingsworth fits that profile. While the Zátopek:10 is, of course, most famous for its 10,000m Australian Championship events, this year it adds national under-20 titles in the de Castella male and Ondieki female 3000m races. Hollingsworth will be aiming for the junior Australian title in the latter.
Fittingly, the events begin with a 5km community run. Alongside the many amateur runners participating, some of Melbourne’s top crews are running in it as a “mate vs mate” 5x1km relay organised by Up There Athletics.
“You finish in the stadium and that forms a nice bridge towards the pro athletics event,” Jean-Philippe says. “When you think about community engagement, participation is critical. It's one thing to be a spectator and to sit on the sidelines and cheer on and it's another thing to get out there and get amongst it.”
The reception to this combination of world-class athletes, community participation and a more involving experience for the audience has already been overwhelmingly positive. But for On this is just the start.
“This is very new for us here in Melbourne," Jean-Philippe says. "The OAC was something we were building in the background and then, when we launched it earlier this year, we saw how well received it was and what it meant to the Australian run community that they now had a pro team here. I think it adds value to all the hard work these young athletes are putting in.”
"We've done each event a little differently and we're committed to evolving the experience for athletes and the community. But we can't do it alone, so we really hope that the running community embraces it. Melbourne, we hope to see you there."