By David Monti
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
TEDDINGTON, ENGLAND (24-Jul) -- At 10:30 a.m. at the 6-lane track at St. Mary's University here, the sun is already high, and dozens of shirtless athletes are grunting through their interval sessions. Amongst them are three Australians who will run at different distances at the London Games, each with their own goals but with a central force which drives them: national pride.
"It's great," first-time Olympian Ben St. Lawrence said of running in the Australian vest at an Olympic Games for the first time. "Even just trying it on a few days ago, just to put the uniform on is really special."
St. Lawrence, 30, a former overweight college party boy, knows that his chances of a medal are very slim, but that's not what the Games are all about, he said after running eight one-kilometer intervals. The Olympics is about giving your best and making your nation and family proud. He said that family members had spent AUD 20,000 (USD 20,600) on tickets to see him run, and he wasn't about to disappoint them.
"Twenty thousand has been spent on seeing me run, so that's a big of extra pressure," said St. Lawrence who explained that a top-10 finish would be a good success for him here. "They've forked out a bit of money to come."
St. Lawrence's Australian teammate, Collis Birmingham, is running in his second Games, and he's set his expectations a little higher after challenging world champion Mo Farah on the last lap of the Aviva London Grand Prix 5000m earlier this month. In that race, Birmingham was the only athlete to follow Farah on his 56-second final lap and was rewarded with a 13:09.57 personal best. Birmingham feels he's on the upswing at just the right moment, finishing on the podium or scoring a personal best, in each of his last four races.
"That was a positive step," said Birmingham of his London race. "I felt better than I felt before." He continued: "I think that my last two races show that I'm doing better managing my races."
Birmingham, 27, and his coach Nic Bideau, agreed that being able to run sub-2:27 for the last kilometer was the key to making the final in London. Birmingham, who did not make the final in Beijing four years ago, ran about 2:30 for the final 1000 meters in the London race which went out on the slow side much like an Olympic prelim. He reminded a reporter that only 15 men make the final.
"It's not what you can run, but what you can run in the last 1000," said Bideau. He added: "Collis is in the best shape he's been in. He should make the final."
For Jeff Riseley, a first-time Olympian at 800 meters whose intervals were visibly quicker than St. Lawrence's or Birmingham's, Bideau thought he had a reasonable chance at a medal. Riseley ran the 1500m in Beijing in 2008 but did not advance out of the first round.
"Rudisha is the closest thing to a gold medal lock at these Games," Bideau said of the Kenyan world record holder. "But after that, there are eight or ten guys who could medal," including Riseley.
Riseley, 25, whom Bideau nicknamed "Goober," has had a very consistent season this year at the two-lap distance, running under 1:47 in each of his six outings and setting a 1:44.48 personal best in his most recent race in Lignano on July 17. Bideau said Riseley is ready to get through the rounds.
"You've got to be prepared to run as hard as you can," Bideau said of the first round. "You've got to line up in the heats ready to run."
PHOTO: Collis Birmingham (left) and Ben St. Lawrence after completing a track workout at St. Mary's University (Photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)