Brian Roe | Picking up the pace

FAST TRACK: Stewart McSweyn placed fifth in the men's 5000m final at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April. He raced in the IAAF Diamond League in Morocco earlier this week. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins
FAST TRACK: Stewart McSweyn placed fifth in the men's 5000m final at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April. He raced in the IAAF Diamond League in Morocco earlier this week. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

When 12-year-old Stewart McSweyn travelled from King Island to Symmons Plains in 2007 for the Tasmanian All Schools Primary Cross Country he didn’t manage to win his 3000-metre race.

But he did finish second albeit 22 seconds behind the winner – enough to convince the young man that if he stuck at it perhaps this was the sport for him.

Anyone who has recently observed the now 23-year-old strutting his stuff on running tracks all over the world wouldn’t need any convincing that he’s ended up in the right place.

While his 188cm and boundless endurance might have been handy on the AFL field, his bulk – all 71kg of it might have left him a fraction vulnerable at that altitude.

As it happens the gold medallist from that under 13 race eleven years ago, Matt Hanson, has enjoyed a fine career as a footballer and the young fellow back in 11th spot – Eli Templeton actually did end up playing for the Saints.

For the record in a race chock-full of future talent across the sporting field, Commonwealth Games gold and silver triathlon medallist Jake Birtwhistle was third and Olympic cyclist Scott Bowden sixth.

Who knows what sporting careers might have emerged among the more-than 4000 Tasmanian school athletes who ran at Symmons Plains two weeks ago?

McSweyn ran the same distance on Friday night – this time on the track at the IAAF Diamond League meet at the slightly more exotic location of Rabat in Morocco.

He didn’t win this race either but it delivered and meant much more - as perhaps in retrospect did his first appearance at Symmons.

The King Islander is a late maturer. He didn’t make an Australian track team at youth or junior level, but did run in the world under 20 cross country in 2013, finishing 86th out of 113. 

But then there was clearly the first click in his mind – a realisation that he could be competitive at least in national competition.

As a 12-year-old in 2007, Stewart McSweyn represented Tasmania in the 400m medley event at the Australian Track and Field Exchange.

As a 12-year-old in 2007, Stewart McSweyn represented Tasmania in the 400m medley event at the Australian Track and Field Exchange.

Success at that level then came as a rush. Since 2015 there have been eleven national medals, including three championship victories.

Under the guidance of experienced distance coach Nic Bideau and training alongside many of the country’s best distance runners came the challenge to take a step higher still.

On the training track McSweyn was easily able to hold his own and goading those with better pedigrees to take him on.

But how to make progress in actual competition?

One option might have looked an easy one – after all setting one’s sights on breaking all the Tasmanian records from 1500 to 10,000 metres can’t have been all that taxing.

But they were all pretty sound marks, his predecessors from the Apple Isle having included some class acts on the track.

Then there was getting experience by making a national team or two.

That can work both ways for an athlete in the very early stages of his career.

The abundance of contenders left only a spot in the 3000m steeplechase for last year’s world championships in London.

On paper it didn’t go well but there were pretty logical reasons for that – principally his lack of experience on going over the barriers and water jump.

But that didn’t deter McSweyn in the slightest.

Ratcheting it up a notch he easily made the Commonwealth Games team for the Gold Coast in April at both 5000 and 10,000 metres.

His fifth placing over the shorter distance was a signal that progress was being made.

At the Diamond League meet in Shanghai in May he didn’t go with the leaders in the 5000m when they accelerated with no real explanation as to why not.

On the positive side was the indication that he felt he could have.

In Rabat on Friday in a world class field he stayed in contact – rattling home to take 13 seconds off his best in 7.34.79. Only one Australian, Craig Mottram, has ever run faster at 3000 metres.

For sure there is more.