Five years ago Stewart (Stewie) McSweyn was watching the Olympics from the comfort of his sofa. Whilst his compatriots were soaking in the atmosphere of Rio De Janeiro, McSweyn had run his final race of the summer. A win in the British Milers Club 3,000m Steeplechase in Solihull. A long and tiring season in which the Australian had chased the Olympic standard had come to a humble end. 121 different steeplers ran quicker than him that year.
If McSweyn needed perspective, it won’t have been hard to find. McSweyn hails from King Island off the coast of Tasmania, a sparsely populated outpost where there are more sheep than people.
Growing up on an island with less than 2,000 inhabitants leans to a certain degree of introspection. To be at one with one’s thoughts. And pondering his 2016 season it won’t have been hard to see the positives.
At the start of the season McSweyn had opened the season in 8.50.24, almost twenty seconds from the standard. In every single race he improved, until he came within five seconds in Sweden. He had gone from national class steepler to reasonably robust in an international field.
With qualification one year later to the World Champs he could have even seen validation, though just two tenths of a second sliced off his best and 14th in his heat clearly rankled.
Change of event
Such an achievement, a debut at a major champs may have been a cause for celebration for some. A validation that things were things were going right but for McSweyn and his coach, Nic Bideau, much grander plans were blooming.
In July of 2017 McSweyn had given his first glimpse of what was to come. Racing at the Morton Games in Dublin he comprehensively beat Collis Birmingham and a competitive field, taking six seconds out of his compatriot over the final 300m to run a breakthrough 13.19 over 5000m. It was a World Champs qualifying standard and an almost fifteen second personal best. Just six days later he ran 3.55.97 in the mile in Cork. It was enough to signal a change of focus.
In the summer of 2018 McSweyn really turned it up a notch. Fifth in the Commonwealth Games 5000m in April he only got quicker, running 3.34.82 over 1500 metres in June and then 13.05.23 in Brussels over 5000 in August. With his final performance, as far as Australians went, only the great Craig Mottram had run quicker. McSweyn was knocking on the door of world class.
McSweyn’s breakthrough snuck under the radar by virtue of there being eleven men in front of him in Brussels. Getting closer he was still a way off the world’s best. And still that continued into 2019, despite ever increasing leaps up the world rankings. In Monaco and Paris over 1500m both times he ran 3.31.81. Both times he finished 8th.
Quietly moving up McSweyn had progressed consistently and clearly. His stock only short because at some time surely it must hit a ceiling. When he exited the Doha World Champs in the semifinals of 1500m more people noticed him falling short than the clear progress he had made. Twelfth in the 5000m final more in that vein.Embed from Getty Images
Entering the established elite
Yet it is in Stewart McSweyn’s ability to defy limits that he has finally broken through to respected contender. A 2020 where he front ran 3.30.51 to win the Doha Diamond League the breakout in September, but one that had been in the making for a number of years. That he pushed on from there can come as no shock.
7.28.02 in Rome to take four full seconds off the Australian record. 3.29.51 in Monaco to become the first Australian under 3.30. 3.48.37 to run the fastest mile the world has seen in seven years. Like McSweyn himself, the superlatives are unlimited.
Since 2020 he has finished outside the top three only three times in nineteen races. Nine of those races were Diamond Leagues. He has played out the Olympic final on many a stage.
It is a far cry from his youth, running around his family farm, through the luscious greens, rolling hills and rain packed trails. Who would have thought that the “Mayor of King Island” could be within touching distance of the finest on the planet?
That is the reality. Five years on from his win in Solihull, McSweyn heads to Tokyo, not as a man with the standard but as one of the few who sets it. He has every chance of Olympic glory.
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