• Speakman's Olympic dream reignites in United States

Speakman's Olympic dream reignites in United States

Hawke's Bay middle distance runner Eric Speakman has got guts.

Taking time off his work as a social studies and commerce teacher at Hutt Valley High School in a final attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics is a huge sacrifice in itself. But even bigger is the 30-year-old Taradale High School old boy's decision to base that quest in the United States where the risk of contracting Covid-19 is high.

"I had my first vaccination shot in New Zealand before I left and my second seven or eight days after my arrival in the States. The best science suggests I'm not likely to contract it and if I did it would be a mild case," Speakman (pictured above, photo John Faulkner) explained at his Michigan base today.

"Covid was part of my decision-making process. I had to self isolate when I arrived in the States. The only time I'm outside is when I'm running ... most of the time I'm inside sleeping and eating.  Air travel is the biggest concern but people tell me I'm more likely to contract Covid during a weekly grocery shop than when I'm on a plane."

A Napier Harrier Club runner, Speakman, is hoping to qualify for the 5000m at Tokyo and has until June 22 to get as close as possible to the entry standard time of 13m13.50s. He proved his decision to travel to the States was the right one when he recorded a personal best time of 13:22:08 on the way to a third placing in a 20-strong field at the Sound Running track meet in Los Angeles eight days ago.

His previous best time of 13:31:84 was posted in Auckland last year. His time also bettered Nick Willis's New Zealand resident record of 13:22:11 set six years ago.

Speakman wasn't mentioned by the race commentators until he crossed the finish line four seconds behind the winner Mohammed Ahmed of Canada.

"I was ranked 18th of the 20 starters and was not supposed to be that far up the field. It was a very good run which I thought would happen with a bit more depth of competition and after some good altitude training," Speakman recalled.

"I've still got more in the tank. I was a little bit slow through the 3km mark at 8:08. I was hoping to be closer to 8m. But I'm still capable of running under 13m20 and that will be my goal in Portland, Oregon next weekend," Speakman said.

"If I could knock another nine seconds off my time I would be an automatic qualifier for Tokyo. If I can't it would then be up to the selectors."

Speakman was one of four Kiwis in the field in Los Angeles. Matt Baxter was 11th, fellow Hawke's Bay starter George Beamish 12th and Julian Oakley 15th. All four ran in the New Zealand 3000m championship in Hastings in January.

Speakman was second in that championship as well as in the national 1500 and 5000m championships.   

Speakman admitted he thought his career was over after the Hastings-hosted nationals.

"But I'm grateful to Hutt Valley High School for allowing me to have time off for one more crack at my Olympic dream. Obviously with Covid it's a costly campaign, about $17,500, and I'm grateful to all my sponsors too."

He particularly wanted to thank the following sponsors:

Rodney Green Foundation, Bluewater Hotel, Run Walk Hawke's Bay, Bayswater Vehicles, Electrotech, Phil Carmine from Tremains Real Estate, Gearey Painting, Napier Harrier Club, ES 2020 Supporters Club and SOS Rehydrate.

Speakman went close to qualifying for the Rio Olympics before an Achilles injury slowed him down. That was the start of almost three years of nagging injuries.

Should he qualify for Tokyo it would be an appropriate reward for a bloke who has refused to give up on his Olympic dream.