• Speakman eyes Olympic qualifying time on home track

Speakman eyes Olympic qualifying time on home track

Remember Hawke's Bay athlete Eric Speakman?

Yes the Taradale High School old boy who came close to representing New Zealand at the Rio Olympics after a memorable 2016 year. He set sizeable PB’s for 1500m (3:37.44) and 3000m (7.58.85) and also recorded a maiden sub-four-minute mile with a 3:57.30 performance at the Cooks Classic in Whanganui.

But, later that year, an Achilles problem hinted at the first injury issues which were to haunt him for much of the next three years. Well Speakman, 30, is injury-free and hoping to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

The Napier Harriers Club member will tackle the national 3000m championship at the Potts Classic meeting in Hastings on Saturday as part of the selection process.

"I'm very excited to be coming home. I think I've run once at home in good shape during the last 10 years. I want to put on a good show for all my supporters in the Bay who have supported me during the last 15-20 years," Speakman said shortly after arriving home tonight from his Wellington base.

"There will be almost 20 starters and there are eight to 10 of us who could win it on the day," Speakman explained.

Other serious contenders include Taranaki's Matt Baxter (left in photo below), Otago's Oli Chignell, Bay of Plenty's 1500m kingpin Sam Tanner (right in photo below) and Havelock North's Whanganui Collegiate old boy Geordie Beamish, who like Speakman, boasts United States experience on his CV.

Speakman, who will start work as a commerce and social studies teacher at Hutt Valley High School later this month, pointed out his confidence is running high after winning the 5000m race at the Night of 5s meet in Auckland last month. He beat his previous best by more than 23 seconds and secured victory in a race record time of 13m31.84s.

It's important I start fast this weekend. I'm hoping to go under eight minutes so I get some big points towards Olympic qualification," Speakman said.

"I've checked out the weather forecast. Those big winds we've had so far this week will be gone so the chances of a good time are high."

He is keeping his options for Tokyo open and will be happy to represent his country in either the 3000m, 5000m or 1500m.While he opened the 5000m door last month he will do another 5000m at the Hastings-hosted nationals in March before attempting qualification times over 1500m.

"I'm pretty happy to have had injury-free status for the past 12 months. The body has been pretty good since last month so I should be firing on all cylinders this weekend," Speakman said.

Since winning the national 1500m title in 2017, he has been ravaged by a succession of gut-wrenching injuries, which would have floored a less resilient athlete.

But never at any stage did Speakman consider walking away from the sport he loves and his performance at AUT Millennium was rich reward for his patience and perseverance.

The Achilles settled down sufficiently to allow him to triumph in the 1500m at the 2017 national championships in Hamilton but the issue worsened following a high-altitude training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona. Later that year, he flew out to Europe and took to the start line twice in Belgium but the pain, coupled with a lack of fitness, forced him to DNF on both occasions.

On his return home, he knew he faced little choice other than to undergo surgery.

“There was a whole cocktail of things wrong with the Achilles,” Speakman recalled..

“I had some Haglund’s bone growth shaved off, I also had a partial detachment of the Achilles and I had it re-braided and stitched up.”

Thankfully, the Achilles responded well to the surgery but the rehabilitation process was long and arduous. He did not re-start running until the winter of 2018 and in consultation with Steve Willis, his long-time coach, he opted to target a new event for 2019.

“We had a discussion around qualifying, where I asked myself the question – is the goal to make the Olympic Games in the 1500m or is it to make the Olympic Games in whichever event I was capable of qualifying in?

“Sometimes we get hung up on the wrong event and pigeon-hole ourselves in a certain way. I’ve always known that if I’m in good aerobic shape, I can run a good 5000m which enables me to run better in the 1500m. I’d also previously run a sub-eight-minute 3000m, so we felt the steeplechase was an event worth exploring. I felt given my flat PB for the distance, and that if I became a reasonable hurdler, I could run around 8:30 – a mark close to qualifying for major events.”

He opened his 2019 with a modest 800m outing at the Potts Classic but disaster struck on his steeplechasing debut in Wellington in February of that year.

Misjudging the first water jump he cracked his heel on the edge of the water pit sustaining a calcaneus fracture which ruled him out for the remainder of the 2019 domestic track and field campaign.

After recovering from the injury, he was selected to compete at the 2019 Oceania Championships in Townsville in June and spent a period training and racing in the United States in preparation.

During his time Stateside, he won a low-key steeplechase in Hillsdale, Michigan in 9:08.24 but just days after this victory he started to feel foot pain, which was to be diagnosed as a stress fracture in the second metatarsal.

Once again, Speakman was plunged into a period of rehabilitation before returning in good shape and running an ‘awesome leg’ (of 31:13 for the 10.163km distance) for Victoria University AC at the 2019 Road Relay Championships. 

However, just one week later, he suffered another major body blow as he was dealt the news he had suffered a third fracture for the year, this time on the left fibula. 

For many athletes, another injury would have represented a moment of devastation and, although Speakman was unquestionably very disappointed, he has always chosen to adopt a positive mindset.

“The Oceania’s would have been my first chance to run as a senior for New Zealand but I try not to get down in the dumps too much,” Speakman said.

“Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments, but I’ve always had the view that when I have an injury, I just have to move forward.”