Marathon great Robert de Castella only ever sighted the track on the run home to the finish, but the doyen of the road race has seen enough of Stewart McSweyn to rate him an Olympic chance this year.
The King Islander had set all of the benchmarks last year to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games in the 1500m (3:31.81), 5000m (13:05.63) and 10,000m national record (27:23.80) but is yet to decide which event to focus on.
Speaking to The Examiner to promote the Indigenous Marathon Foundation's new search in Launceston for 12 competitors to run the New York Marathon, de Castella is adamant McSweyn has now single-handedly arrested the sliding fortunes of Australia's middle-distance running.
"It's just so great to have someone back up there for us again," de Castella said. "He's been such a shining light."
The revered figurehead of Australian athletics for more than four decades that included a 1990s stint as AIS director believed McSweyn has all the tools to shock the world at his first Olympics.
"I'm really impressed by what he's been doing of late these days," de Castella said.
"He's in great form, plus I think he's got a great kick on him and that's an incredible asset to have in his events.
ELSEWHERE IN SPORT
"I'm just really excited that we're getting someone of his calibre back up there again.
"Hopefully, he can now show the rest of the country's top middle-distance runners that is possible to perform at that level because it's been a long time since we've had anyone good enough."
The most recent 24-year-old's times has bettered those from Craig Mottram, the last Australian middle-distance hope in the 2000s, but is yet to win a race of significance compared to the Victorian.
But de Castella, winning gold medals at the 1982 and 1986 Commonwealth Games and the 1983 World Championships, said Tokyo will aid McSweyn to race even better.
"The Olympic Games are tough for him because it's multiple rounds," he said.
"It really just adds another degree of complexity into the whole thing running there.
"The early rounds you're racing enough to qualify for the next round so you need to have that acceleration.
"Anything can happen out there because in those slow races, he can get spiked or tripped up so he'll need luck."
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