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Cameron Myers: Stepping back and taking it all in is surreal

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Published in Athletics
Thursday, 23 November 2023 06:37
An exclusive interview with Australian teenage running sensation who has Olympic ambitions next season

Cameron Myers might only be 17 but his record-breaking performances in 2023 have put the athletics world on notice. AW talks to the Australian who is on an Olympic mission and focused on joining the 1500m elite.

The starting gun fired at Hayward Field and Cameron Myers surged to the front. The 17-year-old looked very much at home, as if he was meant to be there, leading an illustrious Bowerman Mile field which included the likes of Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Yared Nuguse, Cole Hocker, George Mills and Stewart McSweyn.

He was, in fact, supposed to be at the head of that queue but only for 700m. Myers appearance on the famous Eugene track was to act as a pacer. He did his job beautifully, too, helping to lay the groundwork for what developed into one of the great races of the summer as Ingebrigtsen destroyed the European record with 3:43.73 in just holding off the American record-breaking charge of Nuguse.

Myers might not have figured in the final shakedown on this occasion but, if his progress continues at the rate he has shown since the turn of the year, it might not be too long until his is a regular face on the elite scene. The weekend of the Diamond League final was just the latest stage of his sporting education and the athletics world is watching.

Cameron Myers pacing the mile at Pre Classic (Dan Vernon)

It was in February when the Australian created his own piece of mile record-breaking history. The Maurie Plant Meeting in Melbourne provided the stage as he clocked 3:55.44, coming fourth in a race won by Olli Hoare in 3:52.44. Not only was it the first time Myers had broken four minutes for the distance but it also represented a world age 16 best and made him the second-youngest sub-four miler in history by just nine days.

The previous record-holder and the man who is still the youngest? One J. Ingebrigtsen, who had been at the top of that particularly youthful tree with his run of 3:56.29 from 2017.

This would be the right time to point out that rarely is it helpful to heap too much expectation on a young athletes shoulders. You dont have to dig very deep to find examples of those who burned so brightly in the early stages, only to fizzle out almost as rapidly as they had burst on to the scene.

Yet, for better or worse, that landmark performance means Myers name is rarely mentioned without the Olympic 1500m champions following in the same breath. Any chance of flying under the radar then completely evaporated in April when Myers broke Ingebrigtsens 1500m U16 world best by nearly two seconds with a run of 3:38.02 at the Australian Championships.

There followed a European trip this summer during which Myers lowered his 1500m best four times in five races, culminating in a run of 3:33.26, an U18 world record, at the Silesia Diamond League. The winner of that race? You guessed it. Ingebrigsten.

The world of middle distance running is currently undergoing a seismic shift, which has been caused in large part by the Norwegian defying some of the previously established conventions, such as becoming a double European champion before his 18th birthday.

Myers is aware of the comparisons being made and the attention coming his way. He sees the headlines and the social media posts, he can feel more eyes on him. Yet he gives the impression of being equipped to handle the challenges which will be heading in his direction.

I read it and I see it Im definitely not oblivious to it but I dont really react much towards whats going on outside of training and racing, he says. Its just cool to be seeing whats happening with the sport and seeing whos coming in, whos running fast. Its strange to open social media and see posts about me. It is pretty cool but I dont really pay much attention to it.

Whereas Ingebrigtsen has always, even from the earliest stages of his career, portrayed an intensity which suggested that nothing other than utter world domination will do, Myers comes across as being much closer to the image of a regular teenager.

His relaxed demeanour means he has the air of a young man who is unhurried, even if his ultimate goal is to see how fast he can propel himself through 1500m. He certainly doesnt sound like someone who is getting ahead of themselves or trying to skip several steps in the process. He is sticking to his own schedule.

That run of 3:33 gave Myers the standard to run at the World Championships in Budapest this summer, for example. The temptation to follow the bright lights must have been huge but a consultation with his coach and support group resulted in heading home to Canberra rather than Hungary.

That doesnt mean the big championships are not part of the gameplan, though. There is no secret around Myers ambition to get to the Olympics next year (he has the qualifying standard for that, too) but, when asked to reflect on his Eugene experience and running with Ingebrigtsen, he simply says: Im not really focusing much on what hes doing, necessarily. I mean running 3:43 is obviously pretty amazing but I think that Ive just got to focus on making an Aussie team first.

Securing his first international appearance will be quite a feat in itself. Myers will not want for domestic competition when the Australian Championships roll around again in April.

Cameron Myers racing in Australia (Getty)

Training partner Jye Edwards, Hoare and McSweyn will all be in the selection mix, too.

Running the standard for the Olympics next year is probably a bit of a turning point, I suppose, says Myers, with an impressive level of understatement. Its nice to go into the Olympic year having that and to lift the weight off my shoulders in that respect. Thats definitely going to be the big one, but I suppose winning the trials next year is more important.

He adds: Its an exciting time to be in running and 1500m running especially. I mean, its probably going to take running close to 3:30 to make the Australian team. Weve got four qualifiers at the moment and were probably going to have another couple by the time the period ends next year. Everyones going to have to run at the trials.

He will walk towards that challenge, rather than shy away from it. Another aspect to Myers background which offers encouragement that hes here for the long haul is his long-term development. This is no flash in the pan.

His first coach, Lee Bobbin, took him to a maiden national title at the age of 12 and the pair worked together until April of this year. Another key figure in Myers rise is the now 20-year-old Tomas Palfrey, who was also under Bobbins charge at the same time and provided the perfect target for the younger athlete to try and chase down in training.

Primarily with the thought of helping Palfrey move forward, Dobbin got in touch with Dick Telford, who had led the careers of Lisa Ondieki, Benita Willis, Lisa Weightman and Michael Shelley. Still led by Dobbin, Palfrey and Myers began to join in with the Team Telford sessions in late 2020. It was a recipe which worked, with Palfrey eventually moving away to run for the University of Oregon and Myers making history. The latter describes his move to work with Telford full-time ahead of his European adventure as a natural progression.

Next year will be Myers last at Lake Ginnindera school, an institution which he says: Has a number of elite athletes so its almost normal in a way for people to be achieving pretty cool things.

There will be soon be a big question to answer. Earlier this year, he signed a Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deal with Nike which opens the door to going to college in America. Again, though, making that call doesnt sound like its causing too many sleepless nights.

I havent made any final decisions or anything like that but its nice to have the option open, says Myers.

His first trip to the US as a guest of Nike and seeing those impressive facilities in Eugene will have started to open his eyes. But, as he says, generally there has been a lot to take in.

Josh Kerr beats Jakob Ingebrigtsen (Getty)

The whole professional scene is very new to me. I dont really know what Im doing and its all just come at me all at once, he says. But it just motivates me to run faster.

If I look at my last year, its been pretty unreal. Taking a step back and taking it all in is pretty surreal. I dont think its fully sunk in yet, but I dont think thats a bad thing. Its pretty satisfying but I havent reached where I want to be.

That destination is mixing it with the likes of Ingebrigtsen and world champion Josh Kerr, the two names which come most readily to Myers mind when he is asked which athletes he admires. Its hard to look past the people that are winning, he says.

That relaxed attitude could serve him well, though, as the heat is applied in the coming months.

I dont really change my mindset and my approach too much based on the race. I think its all just running 1500m, he says, with that understatement returning. Im pretty relaxed when it comes to racing. Usually, it all works out in the end. I think Im focused, but Im pretty relaxed at the same time. I just sort of let it happen. Its the big build-up before that that gets you fit.

I like challenging myself and seeing how far I can get, how fast I can run. Thats the main thing. I set the goal of running 3:37 this season so I didnt really expect to run much faster. Ill take it as it comes, I suppose.

Watch this space.

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