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Athletes fly the coup in search of competition

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Seven Australian athletes have flown the coup from Australia and are set to line up in the opening Diamond League athletics event of the year in Monaco on Friday (Saturday morning AEST).

With Super Netball returning under a hub scenario in Queensland and international cycling events underway in Europe and even a Tour de France later this month, sport is returning when deemed safe to do so, albeit under trying circumstances.

Gold Coast team members Genevieve and Ryan Gregson (5,000m and 1500m), Stewart McSweyn (5,000m) and Joseph Deng (800m) have been joined by rising stars Jessica Hull (5,000m), Matthew Ramsden (5,000m pacemaker) and Peter Bol (800m) on the start list for the first major athletics event in Europe since the pandemic.

The seven athletes would be following after Nicola McDermott in returning to elite competition. The Gold Coast bronze medallist in the high jump, jumped 1.90m to finish second in the Folksam Grand Prix in Sweden on Monday before lining up again in the Brussel’s Diamond League in September.

Genevieve Gregson says with no official races over the next few months in Australia, and to give themselves every chance for success next year, the athletes needed to go in search of high calibre races overseas.

“We all start at Monaco. I’ll be racing a fast 5km. I am hoping for a PB or around 15minutes. From there I am hoping for a 2km steeple in Berlin and maybe some shorter races like the 1500m. Again, the objective is to race against the best after eight months of uninterrupted training and make sure we aren’t too far removed from racing come the Olympic year,” Gregson told Commonwealth Games Australia.

The group received federal government approval for the trip, which for the Victorian-based athletes provides the opportunity to flee the six-week local lockdown that only allows even elite athletes the option to train for an hour a day, within 5km of their homes.

“We had to apply through the government for permission to travel. During that process, our coach and manager Nic Bideau was speaking to managers and meet directors in Europe to gather a good idea of what’s available. Logistically it’s been difficult because there are different rules in every country and they are forever changing,” Gregson said from London having arrived earlier in the week.

She says they will adhere to whatever protocols are required, including regular COVID tests and she is aware of the risks.

“We have just had our first COVID test before flying to Monaco. The challenges come when needing to fly in and out of the UK to different meets as border rules can change any day,” Gregson said. “Of course it’s a risk and at times a little scary, but we have weighed up the pros and cons of being here and as long as we stay alert and follow protocol, it can be a successful trip.”

A Commonwealth Games and Olympic finalist in the steeplechase and Olympic finalist over the distance in 2016. Gregson won the national 10,000m title in December and finished second behind Hull in the national 5,000m championships in February before setting a new record around Melbourne’s iconic Tan running track prior to Melbourne’s lockdown.

With a number of small local track and field and cross country events taking place around Australia, the U.S. and Europe, the Monaco event is the largest and highest profile event to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic, but like all global sporting events is taking place under strong bio-security protocols.

Flying to Europe for the London base, McSweyn left on what would have been the day after a debut Olympic appearance in Tokyo having already qualified for a spot in the 5,000m and 10,000m following Australian title wins over both distances.

The King Island distance running machine told the Launceston Examiner he wanted the chance to show his hard work was paying dividends.

“I’ve been training hard so am in good shape but just want more racing opportunities,” McSweyn told the Examiner’s Rob Shaw.

“Everything has been different in Melbourne with the stage 4 lockdown so I’m kind of lucky to get out because it’s not quite as strict in the UK so hopefully I can do more running.

“It’s easier to jump around to other races when you are over here and it depends what’s going on in Australia in six weeks’ time, but I will work it out. Things are definitely not as strict in London compared to Australia, a lot more things are open like most businesses with people dining in cafes.”

In Monaco, McSweyn will face Uganda’s 10,000m world champion Joshua Cheptegei, who won the 5000 and 10,000m races in which McSweyn finished 5th and 11th on the Gold Coast. Cheptegei is said to be targeting the 12:37.35 world record set by Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele back in 2004.

McSweyn is targeting his first sub 13min 5,000m and has his eyes set on his personal best of 13:05.23. The Australian record is held by 2006 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Craig Mottram with 12:55.76.

Monaco will bring back happy memories for Ryan Gregson and Joseph Deng, who both set their respective national 1500m and 800m Australian records at the Stade Louis II.

Deng and training partner Bol will line up against a classy 800m field headlined by reigning world champion Donavan Brazier (1:42.34 PB).

Hull burst onto the scene following an NCAA 1500m win in 2018 and competed for Australia at last year’s world championships in Doha. This summer she added the Australian 5,000m title to her resume and looks to become just the third Australia to break the 15min barrier for the 5,000m and Benita Willis’s 14:47.60 Australian record is not out of the question.

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