‘More time for us to get better’: Olympics delay a blessing in disguise

Tasmanian running sensation Stewart McSweyn says he still has “pinch-myself” moments when he is racing against the world’s best.

McSweyn, 25, grew up on windy King Island, off Tasmania’s north-west coast, and is one of only a handful of the state’s elite athletes preparing to jet off to the re-scheduled Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Presently, he is back in his home state to catch up with family and compete in the Tasmanian Christmas Carnivals.

The carnivals have been part of Tasmania’s sporting culture for generations and are fiercely contested by some of the country’s best runners, cyclists and woodchoppers.

Speaking from the carnival’s athlete camp at Port Sorell, McSweyn said his career achievements still felt like a dream.

“When you’re a kid, you always dream of making an Australian team or whatever, and you kind of wonder how the top guys get to how good they are,” McSweyn said.

He credits his primary school physical education teacher for spotting his talent.

“He was kind of like, ‘you’re probably a little bit skinny to be playing footy, have you ever tried running? You look like you can run around the field alright’, and it kind of went from there.”

man running along a beachman running along a beach
McSweyn is preparing to compete in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

McSweyn spent most of 2020 in Europe, enjoying a stellar period.

He broke the Australian records for the 1,500m and 3,000m at the Diamond League meet in Doha in September, before running the world’s fastest mile time for 2020 at Penguin, in north-west Tasmania, as part of the Tasmanian Christmas Carnivals.

Victorian runner Adam Spencer, 19, helped McSweyn achieve his three minute and 50.61 seconds win in the Penguin mile by running as his pacer for the 800m.

“I’m looking forward to trying to get better for next year; hopefully the Tokyo Olympics go ahead and I’ll be able to showcase the improvement I’ve made,” McSweyn said.

He has qualified for the 1,500m, 3,000m and 10,000m events at the Tokyo games.

“I’ve got to narrow it down to two [events], so it’s kind of up in the air which two I’ll choose. Hopefully the Olympics go ahead; probably a month or two out I’ll make a decision about what I’m going to compete in,” McSweyn said.

Tokyo delay bought time

Tasmania’s Tokyo-bound cyclist Georgia Baker is also home for the carnivals series.

“It’s been eight months since I’ve been back to Tassie, so it’s good to see all my family again and just relax and spend some time with people I’ve missed a lot,” Baker said.

“This year, given we haven’t had much racing, it’s really exciting to pin a number on again and race.”

It’s been two years since Baker competed at the carnivals and she is using it as a warm up for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Woman cyclist posing for a photo on a suburban footpathWoman cyclist posing for a photo on a suburban footpath
Cyclist Georgia Baker is happy to be back in Tasmania.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

The 26-year-old is the only Tasmanian cyclist locked in to race at the Tokyo games in 2021.

She said she was “a little bit shocked” when the 2020 games were cancelled.

Fellow Tasmanian rider Amy Cure retired when the Olympics were postponed, but Baker wasn’t ready for that.

“I’ve love riding my bike and I wasn’t ready to stop cycling after the Olympics anyway,” Baker said.

“So for me, I was like, ‘oh well, it’s more time for us to get better and stronger’.”

She has been in Adelaide most of the year with the Australian Cycling Team preparing for the Olympics.

“We have a new coach, we’ve been trying a few different things that seem to be working really well, so for us it’s really promising.”

Even though the 2021 Olympics aren’t yet a sure thing, Baker wanted to remain optimistic.

“You’ve got to think positive; you can’t really afford to think that it’s not going to go ahead,” Baker said.

Pair prepare for Podium Potential Academy

Lauren Perry, 24, and Josh Duffy, 20, are two of Tasmania’s rising cycling stars taking on the carnival.

The pair have been selected into the Australia Cycling Team’s Podium Potential Academy for 2021.

Two cyclists smiling at the cameraTwo cyclists smiling at the camera
Lauren Perry and Josh Duffy have both joined the Podium Potential Academy.(ABC News: Craig Heerey)

Duffy was also part of the academy in 2020, but Perry will join him in Adelaide in the New Year.

“It’s been something I’ve worked [at] for a very long time and had some set backs on the way, so for it to finally come to fruition is really good,” Perry said.

“Longer term, I’d really like to go to either the world championships or put my hand up for the Commonwealth Games. I don’t know if it’s a realistic goal but there’s no harm in working towards it.”

Duffy also has high hopes.

“It’s nice to be back in Tas racing with friends and [with] family watching, and it’s an opportunity to take all the pressure off and just enjoy racing,” he said.

The Launceston Carnival, an indoor event, was spectator-free this year. The Latrobe and Devonport Carnivals were cancelled, but the Burnie Carnival on New Year’s Eve has geared up to be one of the biggest.

McSweyn, Baker, Perry and Duffy will all compete at Burnie on Thursday afternoon and night. Fellow Tokyo-bound Tasmanian runner Jack Hale is also among the line-up.