Only GB Gold in Portland

MastersThe results by the British team in the World Indoor Champs in Portland, Oregon were disappointing.  In fact the only Gold medal won was by Barnet and District’s Dave Wilcock in the v60 invitation 800m race. The top v60 800m runners in the world were invited to compete. Dave once again proved that he is still the man to beat on the Vets track scene. Not only that but he was involved in probably the finest race of the champs, and certainly the most dramatic finish. What follows is a brief backstory to this fantastic achievement.

Dave Wilcock lost to Joe Gough twice in finals at the European Vets Indoor Champs in Gent in March 2011. First in the 800m by 1.26 seconds (2-11.51 to 2-13.17) and then in the 1500m by a mere 36 secs. As it was so conveniently located, Moira and I had taken the Eurostar over there to support Dave. That 800m defeat hurt, and in the 1500m Dave had decided that Joe was going to have to work darned hard if he was going to beat him.

This marvellous photo shows mild-mannered Dave giving Joe a thousand-yard stare on the start line. In the race he sat in for a while and then took the race on with a lap or so to go, actually surprising the field (and Joe Gough in particular, who for a moment seemed to have missed the break). However, as Dave strode out for the win Joe seem to open up his stride, eat up the ground between them, and then drift past for victory. The raised arms and smile showed what it meant to him to have beaten Dave. It is pleasing to know that Dave arranged to go out for a meal and some craic with Joe that evening.

So, on last Saturday Dave reversed the positions in the Invitation v60 race at the World Indoor Champs at Portland Oregon. I am certain that he will be very proud of that result, but knowing him won’t see it as any sort of ‘redemption’ for the earlier performances, where the fitter man had won the day.

What the result in Oregon does show are three essential characteristics of Dave Wilcock’s make-up as an athlete, whom I have worked with closely over the years. First he is unlike anyone else that I know in his ability to use races to get fit. When he received the invite to compete in Oregon he naturally upped his training in the weeks available. But also he found a series of races to test his increasing fitness, and also finesse his racing tactics. On 14 Feb he ran 2-16.76 in an indoor race at Lea Valley, and followed that with three more 800s in similar times in the next few weeks, plus three 1500s which brought his time for the longer distance down by 22 seconds. In all these he was untroubled, including the British Vets Champs just the weekend before Oregon, and was able to try fast starts, long runs for home and other racing variations.

The second characteristic is a proven ability to take something positive from all these races and build a superb confidence level as he goes through, which he was able to take forward to the race that really mattered. During this time Joe Gough had become the de facto race favourite for the race as he had already run faster than Dave this year. But Dave had an unshakeable believe in his own fitness and ability to rise to the occasion.

The third trait is one that I have witnessed on so many occasions. That is Dave’s commitment to racing. Hard. For him this often means taking it out hard and making others work that bit harder to beat him. There are no easy victories against him. I have seen rivals wilt under this pressure, and others take him out. But interestingly, for someone who can run so well at the shorter distances he hasn’t so often sat in and out-sprinted his rivals, although physiologically he is quite capable of doing it to most of them. I think that deep down he wants to both win and run as fast as possible. The ‘Ovett-kick’ tactic may win races but may come off a slower mid-race pace and not be so satisfying time-wise for him.

So, to the Oregon race. I was not able to be there, and have yet to find a full video of the race [one subsequently surfaced]. But from Matt Treasarden’s phone video of the first 550m or so and from the online clip of the last few metres I think I can talk you through it. For the first 200m Dave sat in in third, with Joe just in front of him, as they hit 34secs. The same positions were held for the second lap, which was reached after another 36 seconds. 70s for 400m was too slow, so Dave took it on down the back straight to open the field up and get a more respectable pace. Joe surged to the front just before the bell and entered the final straight with a narrow lead. Now the race was on, and it was there for whoever wanted it most.

goughofirelandThe video of the finish shows Dave (with his surname mysteriously spelt wrong thoughout) taking it in what must have been the last 2 metres, to win by just 0.11 seconds (2-15.90 to 2-16.01). In his effort Joe crashes to the track as he crossed the line, and Dave raises his arms in triumph. A brilliant win, just shy of the World best – which is 2-14.06, by (you got it) Joe Gough, in 2014.

Dave was very eloquent when interviewed afterwards, saluting his fellow competitors and the vocal, supportive fans, saying: ‘You know the guys gave a good competitive race and the crowd, that Portland crowd down there, really lifts you. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was a good time. That is what it is about – to entertain the crowd and just give it a 100%.’

On many levels Dave Wilcock is a class act, and one that his club and country should cherish.

Now watch the video of the full race. The build-up, the race developing, and the denouement. It is a classic:

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