The road to success for distance runners can be a long and lonely one, but the path has been made easier for World Youth representatives Ryan Gregson (Kembla Joggers) and James Kaan (Hills District) through their close friendship with one another.
Both athletes are members of the Australian team for the World Youth Championships, which commence in just over two weeks time in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Kaan will contest the 800m and Gregson the 1500m.
Over the weekend at a low key pre-departure meet at Homebush, the pair slashed seconds off their personal bests over 1500m, with Gregson recording a time of 3:47.10 and Kaan 3:48.33. The pair made the most of the still conditions and good pacing provided by two of Australia’s best 800m runners, Werner Botha and Lachlan Renshaw. A month earlier they both clocked 3:48 in an unofficial time trial at Illawong. Kaan also recorded a promising victory recently against a good field which included national 1500m finalist Mitch Kealey in the 800m at the Maunsell Distance Classic in Queensland, clocking a time just outside of his personal best.
Despite being fierce rivals on the track, Gregson and Kaan are the closest of friends off it. That the pair has recently been setting the track alight is no doubt due to the fact that they have been training with each other on every possible occasion, despite the fact that they live almost two hours away from each other.
This has involved Gregson spending time with Kaan’s family over the Easter holidays and the pair meeting up most weekends to do quality track sessions, either at Barton Park in Wollongong or at SOPAC at Homebush.
“His endurance is rubbing off on me and my speed is rubbing off on him,” said Kaan on the assistance that the pair are providing each other in the lead up to taking on the world’s best in Ostrava.
Gregson’s recent 1500m time was less than a second outside of the Australian U18 record of 3:46.34 held by Andrew O’Neil (the mark is also the NSW record). He hopes to add it to his already impressive collection of records which include the NSW U18 3000m and 5000m records.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to get it over in Ostrava. That will depend on whether the races will be tactical. At the end of the day it is only a time and it doesn’t really matter. I’m focused on the place.”
And the place that he’s aiming for, like a number of his teammates, is to be on the podium.
“I had a good kick in the last lap yesterday. I think it was about 40 seconds for the last 300m. If I can do that over there in a slow race I think I’ve got a pretty good chance,” said Gregson on his preparedness for the trials and tribulations of championships running.
The testing nature of championship running is something that Kaan has been gearing his training towards also.
“I’ve got three races in three days at World Youths. This weekend, doing a 1500m and less than 24 hours later doing an 800m is good practice for the backing up [running a 1:50.7 time trial]. I’ve done the three rounds before at the Victorian Opens and I was able to back up well.”
In fact, he backed up so well in the Victorian titles that he took out the event in his PB of 1:50.33, beating more fancied and experienced rivals such as Australian 1500m silver medalist Paul Hoffman.
Like most of the Australian team, the World Youth Championships will be Kaan’s first international competition. The wings on his heels match the hopes in his heart for success.
“My goal is to take out gold and break the Australian U18 record,” stated Kaan, without a hint of cockiness. “To get under 1:48 would be amazing.”
Kaan’s optimism is representative of that of the entire team, which has set their set goals high. Whether that is due to their immense talent or youthful inexperience, one thing is for sure – if athletes continue to cooperate in the same spirit as Kaan and Gregson do then Australian athletics has a promising future.
This is the first of a series of profile pieces on NSW athletes in the World Youth Championships. Further pieces will be added to the website over the next fortnight.
Photos are courtesy of Photos in a Flash and Getty Images