Nicola McDermott becomes first Australian woman to clear 2m in the high jump
Nicola McDermott becomes first Australian woman to clear 2m in the high jump

How a Bible verse inspired highest Olympic trials leap

It was the upset of the championships which elevated Jye Edwards from promising injury-prone junior to giant killer and Tokyo-bound.

Edwards stalked Australia's best runner Stewart McSweyn in the 1500m final and then took him down over the final stages to win his first national title and claim a spot on the Olympic team.

There were plenty of highlights on the final day of the Olympic trials with Nicola McDermott becoming the first Australian woman to clear 2.00m in the high jump.

The first wave of selections for the Olympic track and field team were announced on Sunday night with 20 athletes named. The team for Tokyo is expected to swell to almost 70 by the July cut-off.

 

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Joining McDermott and Edwards as first-time Olympians are decathlete Ash Moloney, hurdler Liz Clay, sprinters Rohan Browning and Riley Day, 400m star Bendere Oboya, pole vaulter Nina Kennedy, 800m national record holder Catriona Bisset, US-based 5000m runner Jessica Hull and walker Jemima Montag.

McSweyn has been selected in the 5000m and 10000m but is still considering running the 1500m in Tokyo.

Discus thrower Dani Samuels, who won a record 14th national title on Sunday, is going to her fourth Olympic Games with steeplechaser Genevieve Gregson her third.

 

High jumper Nicola McDermott (middle) during the announcement of the Australian track and Field team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Picture: NCA NewsWire
High jumper Nicola McDermott (middle) during the announcement of the Australian track and Field team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Picture: NCA NewsWire

 

Edwards' breakout performance had been building this season after three years of injury issues following achilles surgery in 2017.

The 23-year-old from Canberra had never raced against McSweyn but decided early in the final his best chance was to stick with him no matter what with the pair clearing out by more than 20m from the rest of the field.

Edwards powered away early in the home straight to register a career best 3min33.99sec ahead of McSweyn (3:34.55sec).

"I was in two minds 100m in about whether to commit or hang back but I'm so glad I went with him," Edwards said.

"He did all the work and I was lucky to be there with 100m to go. To be able to come over the top, I was stoked as the hardest part was just being there.

"I thought I had a little bit up the sleeve but in saying that, you're never sure until you cross the line.

"If you'd told me that six months ago (about the Tokyo Olympics) I would have said you're nuts, absolutely crazy. It hasn't sunk in yet."

McDermott, 24, had been threatening the magical two-metre barrier over the past couple of years but revealed her inspiration on Sunday came from a Bible verse written on her wrist.

"What was written was fearless hearts are birthed in perfect love. And that's from Jesus and 1 John 4-18," she said.

"That's been my verse because I was always scared of two metres. I knew in my body I could do a lot higher but the fear aspect of high jump is the thing that gets to you with the mind.

"Today I went out and I was like no, I'm fearless because I know I'm loved, I know I've got this, let's go out there and do it."

McDermott's main rival Eleanor Patterson, who had owned the Australian record of 1.99m, missed the national championships because of injury but both jumpers will be on the plane to Tokyo.

HOW SPRINTER SURVIVED LIVING ON SYDNEY STREETS

A refugee from Gambia who slept under a bridge and ate McDonald's out of bins when he first arrived in Australia is now the fastest 200m runner in the country.

But unfortunately for Abdoulie Asim, he doesn't have a medal to show for it after he was sensationally disqualified for running out of his lane in a dramatic postscript to one of the best stories of the Olympic trials.

The 28-year-old was granted asylum after representing Gambia at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

He was forced to live on the street for several weeks before seeking out sprint coach John Quinn, who took him under his wing and set him on a path which culminated in Sunday's national 200m final.

Asim has started the process of gaining residency in Australia but that won't happen in time for the Tokyo Olympics.

"It means a lot to me because the best reason to me to stay in Australia was to continue my career and I just want to run for Australia," he said.

"The first time I came to Australia was pretty hard because I don't know anything about Australia.

"But now it's OK because I have my family here, my coach and my training partners are like my family and they help me a lot."

Abdoulie Asim wants to run for Australia. Picture: Instagram
Abdoulie Asim wants to run for Australia. Picture: Instagram

 

Asim said he feared for his safety when he slept under the Parramatta Bridge but was desperate to start a new life.

He had been cut off by his family after converting to Christianity given they were Muslim leaders in his community.

"When I stay (on the street) even to sleep it was a problem to me because I didn't want to have a nightmare," he said.

"Even sometimes in the morning it (the nightmares) came to me, I would think about how my life is going to be to be in a country without a paper and sometimes I think about what life is going to be like in the future."

Quinn, who has worked at AFL clubs Essendon and the GWS Giants, said Asim had nothing when he turned up to one of his squad's training sessions at Sydney Olympic Park.

He explained how the sprinter had caught a bus from Queensland and had been told to get off at Parramatta.

"Finally when he got to Parramatta to meet this guy he wasn't there so he didn't leave the bus stop for two days in case the guy came," Quinn said.

 

Alex Beck claimed the 400m and 200m double. Picture: Cavan Flynn
Alex Beck claimed the 400m and 200m double. Picture: Cavan Flynn

 

"Eventually he had to leave because he was starving, it didn't take long for the money to run out so he was getting food out of the bins and begging people for money.

"He discovered that at McDonald's kids often go there and leave their leftovers so he was living on leftover McDonald's for quite a while.

"His accommodation was under the bridge in Parramatta with the homeless and the destitute where he had to fight for his space.

"Then somehow he found his way to the track and found me and he has been in my squad now for over two years."

With Asim being disqualified - he had stopped the clock at 20.78sec - the national title went to Queensland's Alex Beck (20.88sec), who had won the 400m national title on Saturday night.

 

McSWEYN TIPPED TO SURPASS MOTTRAM

Ryan Gregson is predicting training partner Stewart McSweyn will surpass Craig Mottram as Australia's best middle-distance runner of modern times.

The former national record holder will be chasing McSweyn in Sunday's 1500m final with spots on the plane to Tokyo up for grabs.

While the 30-year-old is confident he still has some magic left he knows he has his work cut out to topple the rising star of Australian athletics.

"I don't compare him to anyone else, genetically people would look at him and say that's not how you're supposed to look, you think he might be a bit stiff, a bit skinny," Gregson explains.

"Because he is so stiff his body is like a carbon fibre plate, he puts a bit of pressure into his achilles and it just springs back. He's just got an amazing body, he's incredibly talented and he's been able to string together five years uninterrupted."

Stewart McSweyn has been tipped to surpass Craig Mottram as Australia‘s best middle-distance runner of modern times. Picture: David Caird
Stewart McSweyn has been tipped to surpass Craig Mottram as Australia‘s best middle-distance runner of modern times. Picture: David Caird

Mottram shattered the African dominance when he won a bronze medal in the 5000m at the 2005 world championships in Helsinki before winning a memorable silver medal at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

Gregson, who finished ninth in the 2016 Olympic 1500m final in Rio, believes McSweyn will elevate himself on the world stage in coming years.

"We obviously had Craig Mottram 15 years ago doing crazy things," he said. "I won't be surprised if Stewie surpasses his achievements."

The depth of the middle-distance ranks in Australia is the best it has been in decades with six runners, including another of Gregson's training partners Matthew Ramsden, in the mix for three Olympic spots.

"There will be someone who will miss out and it could be me," Gregson says. "I'll be doing my best to give myself an opportunity but in Australia right now our milers are no worse than the Brits or Americans, outside of the African nations, maybe Australia might be the strongest.

"We had one guy make the Olympic final four years ago and it could honestly be three guys this year, it sounds crazy but anything could happen.

"Obviously my camp still back me but you hear peeps from the outside, 'Is Ryan done?' as all these other guys are doing things but I ran 3:36 at Box Hill the other day and the fastest I have ever run domestically is 3:35.

"There is just crazy depth right now and I'm obviously proud that I'm part of this resurgence in middle-distance running.

"And I still think I've got a bit of fight left."

Stewart McSweyn has the potential to take on the world’s best. Picture: Grant Viney
Stewart McSweyn has the potential to take on the world’s best. Picture: Grant Viney

FROM BRIBES TO AN OLYMPICS MEDAL CHANCE

His coach had to almost bribe his mother six years ago to get approval to compete in a decathlon and now Ash Moloney is a medal chance at the Tokyo Olympics.

Moloney was a 15-year-old high-jumper when he joined Eric Brown's training group in Brisbane which included then rising multi-events star Cedric Dubler.

"I came in as a high jumper with a bit of pole vault experience and also some long and triple experience," Moloney said.

"My coach almost bribed my mum into putting me in the decathlon in Townsville in late 2015. It was a weird thing because I was petrified of the 400 and the 1500, absolutely petrified and I still am.

"But you come out of the decathlon and you actually enjoy the feeling of finishing it. It's an achievement every time."

His achievement on Friday night was his first national title with a score of 8284 points - 109 points ahead of Dubler - which included winning six of the ten events.

Ash Moloney competes at the 2021 national track and field championships in Sydney. Picture: Steve Christo
Ash Moloney competes at the 2021 national track and field championships in Sydney. Picture: Steve Christo

Both Moloney and Dubler, who finished 14th at the Rio Olympics, are now confirmed starters in Tokyo with medals not out of the question for the training partners.

"It's a love-hate relationship," Moloney says about the decathlon. "But when you get a PB you love it. But when you don't get a PB or you pushed a little too hard too early it can suck.

"In Tokyo I'm just going to go for a PB. That could be 8500, it could be 8600, it could be two points better than what I did at states."

Moloney, the U/20 world champion, put himself into the Tokyo frame with an Australian record score of 8492 points in December.

His best event is the 400m where he holds the third fastest time in decathlon history

"It's my best because I put a lot of space between me and other decathletes," he says

He recorded better scores in the long jump, shot put, 110m hurdles and 1500m during his national championships victory compared to his record-breaking performance in December.

His biggest fan is his main rival Dubler, who says his 21-year-old teammate is "the next big thing" in world athletics.

Ash Moloney is a medal chance at the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: Steve Christo
Ash Moloney is a medal chance at the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: Steve Christo

"It's interesting, if you'd asked me that a few years ago I would have said I'm a bit of a mentor for him," Dubler said.

"But now that he has started whopping me on the track I'd said we have more of a rivalry but it's very friendly.

"A lot of banter gets thrown around and it motivates us to step up the plate.

"He just had incredible talent from the start but just needed a little guidance. I caught him a few times under the grandstand eating Milo cups and maybe some fast food in his bag when he was rocking up to training.

"My job at the start was getting him a little more focused and making sure he had that support at training he needs to get him through those sessions.

"Ever since then he's started dragging me through so it's been really good."

Originally published as How a Bible verse inspired highest leap ever in Olympic trials



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