NINE athletes from Wellington Athletic Club represented Victoria at the 2024 Australian Athletics Championships held in Adelaide last month.

It is by far the biggest event on the club’s summer athletics calendar, with local hopefuls travelling from as far as Heyfield and Numeralla to compete against the nation’s best junior and open athletes.

For the seasoned athlete with a few national appearances under their belt, the atmosphere never gets old. Meanwhile, debutants running on the biggest stage of their competitive careers rubbed shoulders with Olympic athletes, taking in another level of professionalism with bright eyes.

There is no better place to do this than at the start line. It is always interesting scoping out your competitors: do they look nervous or confident? How do you tell?

Heyfield middle distance runner, Rachel O’Brien, who competed in the senior women’s 1500 metre and 800m events said, “Everyone seems to have their own little habits.”

“For me, it’s jiggling my legs, but I see people jumping or slapping their legs or even cracking jokes with competitors.

“The feeling of stepping out of the cool room and onto the track is one filled with anticipation, excitement and just a little bit of dread knowing the pain that’s probably about to come.

“I’m usually trying to get focused but if someone calls out their support from the sidelines it definitely puts a smile on my face.”

While more nuanced than dancing, Olympic hurdler Michelle Jenneke’s pre-race ritual, whether athletes shake their legs out, slap them to get the blood flowing or confidently stride off the start line to get their heart rate up, rituals are rituals all the same and athletes can be especially superstitious.

As O’Brien lined up on the blue synthetic track in Adelaide, a shade darker than that of Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne, where she claimed her first Victorian Open title in February, you could not help but notice that the Wellington athlete sported the same hairstyle she wore at the state championships.

Was this a coincidence? No.

“I love racing in the space buns, they’re a part of my little preparations actually,” O’Brien told the Express.

“Space buns equals race day mindset for me and they’re just fun.”

On April 11, O’Brien made her eighth Australian Championship appearance in the first heat of the senior women’s 1500m event. So, she’s had the time to hone her pre-race rituals.

Unique among her competitors, O’Brien was the only athlete wearing two buns. Nine out of 15 women sported a ponytail, three wore braids or plaits, while two opted for a single bun.

However, this reporter cannot help pointing out that Olympian Linden Hall, whose formidable world class reputation speaks for itself as the first Australian woman to run a sub four-minute 1500m, also has a ritualistic habit involving hairstyle.

A country girl herself, the Sunbury-born athlete competed in her first Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Eight years ago, she debuted a large green and gold ribbon in her hair on the start line of the 1500m heats.

In 2021, Hall told Australian Women’s Health that while she has become less superstitious over time, she will “always race with a ribbon” in her hair.

“Whenever I get my race uniform, I head over to Spotlight and colour match ribbons to my Nike race kit exactly. And obviously, a green and gold for the Olympics. That’s my thing,” she said.

Despite switching to Puma in 2022, the sight of Hall wearing an orange ribbon in the same 1500m heat as O’Brien on April 11, matching the neon orange to pink gradient uniform, shows that Olympians are creatures of habit too.

But O’Brien probably was not paying attention to the ribbon in Hall’s hair.

Rather, more impressively, that she would be competing against world class athletes like Hall and Georgia Griffith, another Olympian and stalwart of Australian middle distance running.

The two Olympians were labelled “favourites” to go deep in the eventual final by none other than Bruce McAvaney, who commentated the race alongside 18-time national champion, Tamsyn Manou.

After the sound of the gun, O’Brien was placed in the middle of the pack, which had already stretched out by the 300m mark. Well-placed, O’Brien’s long signature stride had her positioned on the outside in eighth. Surging past a shorter competitor with long strides, O’Brien was the tail of a clear leading pack by the end of the first lap, completed in about 75 seconds.

By 800m, a pack of three leaders including Hall and Griffith formed, another three were 30m behind them, followed by O’Brien on her own.

With only the first five across the line awarded automatic entry into the final, O’Brien had work to do from seventh position.

While looking out of finals contention as the bell rang, signalling the final lap, the fast-paced race had O’Brien’s 1100m split clocking 3:18.7. Breaking her personal best time of 4:30.73 looked possible but needing the last 400m to be faster than 72 seconds.

Falling just short of a personal best with a time of 4:33.65, O’Brien placed eighth in the heat and 15th out of 31 competitors overall – her best-ever result at national level.

O’Brien backed up this phenomenal performance in the 800m, placing 17th overall in a time of 2:10.36. Again, O’Brien competed against world class athletes including Olympian Morgan Mitchell and 19-year-old Claudia Hollingsworth who went on to win the final and book a spot at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.


FROM eight national appearances to one. Distance athlete Zali Metcalfe from Drouin, who represents Wellington Athletic Club, toed the line before the Under 20 Women’s 5000m on April 11, marking her debut at national level.

The “pedestrian” pace of the event was, according to commentator Tamsyn Manou, strategic of championship races. Wearing bright yellow spikes, Metcalfe was easy to identify as she ran on the outside of a bunched pack.

But an injection of pace by 800m – noticeable as the pack of about 15 athletes stretched in single file along the track – saw Metcalfe fall off the back of the pack when they bunched together again.

As it goes in distance running, not running with a race’s ebbs and flows in pace, can see athletes fall off the pace quickly and it is hard to make up the distance.

Twelve-and-a-half laps later, Metcalfe had run down at least four athletes to finish 12th, recording a personal best time of 18:16.37.

April 18 or Day 8 was the day of personal bests for Wellington athletes. The club’s first ever medal in a walking event was claimed by Boolarra athlete, Matilda Read. She walked her way to the silver medal in the Under 15 Women’s 3000m Walk. Read, making her debut at a national level, also recorded a personal best time of 15:38.27.

Other personal best times were achieved by Glengarry athlete, Kaydence Fleming, in the Under 16 200m. Striding around the bend towards the finish line in 26.08 seconds, Fleming placed 20th overall.

Leap: Glengarry’s Kaydence Fleming competed in the Under 16 Long jump, the 200m and 400m events at the Australian Athletics Championships in Adelaide. Photograph supplied

Lachlan Rosato from Moe achieved a personal best time in the Under 15 800m of 2:10.65 minutes where he placed 20th. Oscar Woodhouse, who placed 10th in the Under 14 800m ran a blistering time of 2:13.01 minutes, a personal best for the Sale local.



Under 20

Antje Kempff 21st in the 400m (59.85).


Under 18

Maddy Boyd 22nd in the 800m (2:22.59).


Under 16

Kaydence Fleming 8th in the 400m (1:00.62).

Kaydence Fleming 14th in the Long Jump (4.99m).

Grace Graafsma 7th in the 3000m (10:21.36).


Under 15

Lachlan Rosato 7th in the 400m (53.43).


Under 14

Oscar Woodhouse 11th in the 1500m (4:33.75).