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Back-to-Back-to-Back? Jude Thomas Eyes Three-Peat at Sydney Track Classic

Published Thu 21 Mar 2024

With back-to-back Australian 3000m titles to his name by the age of 20, Jude Thomas looked like he had it figured out. Behind the scenes he failed to finish most sessions and spent his first European campaign injured and homesick, bringing valuable lessons into 2024 as he eyes a historic three-peat at Saturday’s Sydney Track Classic.

Borderline amused by his own intricacies; Thomas says it how it is. The Ipswich product is proud of his success but aware of his flaws, somewhat perplexed by his ability in recent years to race at a high level off training numbers that hardly resemble an athlete with Olympic aspirations.

“For so long, I was rocking up and not finishing sessions. I was so negative about myself, even in the warm up I wouldn’t even know why I was there. I would just lead one rep and then fall out the back and I probably only finished three sessions in the whole year,” Thomas says.

In a testament to his talent, his success on the track largely masked his training struggles. Racing at the 2021 Australian 3000m Championships, Thomas set a then Australian Under 20 record of 7:52.11 for silver, before returning in 2022 to clinch his first gold in 7:47.26 and defending his crown in 2023 in a time of 7:48.25 – all by the age of 20.

“I know I have won the race twice before, but I don’t really look at it like that. It’s good to get a streak like that going but it’s so different each year in terms of how it plays out and who is in it,” Thomas says.

“I think the pressure is always off with the 3k because it’s not an Olympic distance. You can always just race to win and I seem to just get them right. Hopefully I can do the same this year.”

Clocking a 1500m personal best of 3:37.77 at the Adelaide Invitational before backing it up with a 5000m personal best of 13:33.60 at the Maurie Plant Meet – Melbourne, Thoams is optimistic that he can run close to 7:40 if required in Syndey, which will likely be the case against the likes of teen sensation Cameron Myers and World Championships representative Matthew Ramsden.

“With a guy like Myers, it will be so interesting to see what he can do because he’s still Under 20 but he’s always pushing the limits, I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes 10 seconds off his Under 20 national record [7:52]. I’m keen to race a guy like him because he’s obviously a superstar over the 1500m, and Rambo who is meeting us in the middle after running 13:17 for 5k,” Thomas says.

Coached by Collis Birmingham, the 22-year-old credits his improvement to adjusting to his new training regime over time and learning lessons the hard way on international soil, encouraged by his senior counterparts of the Melbourne Track Club including Ryan and Genevieve Gregson, and Jack Bruce.

“When you are over in Europe and in the trenches, it’s just so hard. You think it’s the worst thing that can happen but when you have time to reflect, you realise the things that put you in that position and come back really strong at the next opportunity,” Thomas says.

“My training partners got me thinking differently and believing in myself after that. I’m starting to become a bit of a normal athlete, in terms of the races being hard and the training being easy. I have clawed back at it and now I have the fitness and resilience to handle the level required.”

Having already established himself at the 3000m distance, Thomas is eyeing a short but sweet stint in the 3000m steeplechase as the Paris Olympic Games beckon – aiming to carve the shortest route possible to Australian representation having missed the World Under 20 Championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If I’m being honest, I’m not passionate about the steeplechase. It’s not what I want to get out of the sport, but there is an Olympics and I have to do whatever I can to get on that team. Looking at the depth in the 1500m and 5k, it still feels so far away, but I feel like I have a good chance in the steeplechase,” Thomas says.

“I don’t want the steeple to be looked down on as an event that you can just jump into, everyone should know it’s so hard and a ridiculously difficult event to master. You need to really commit to it.

That being said, I do feel like I can have the progression of someone like Cam Myers or Niels Laros, because those guys started the 1500m last year at 3:39 and ended up between 3:31 and 3:33. It’s definitely possible for me, I just need to bunker down and get more work done.”

As Thomas cruised down the home straight at Sydney Olympic Park last year and flashed two fingers to signal his back-to-back Australian titles, his dad Michael Thomas, a keen photographer celebrated while trying to remain composed behind the lens.

“He’s more involved than I am! Queensland Athletics just had their State Championships and he was there all day every day, and he already works stupid long hours at his actual job,” Thomas says.

“I get people at the QAS coming up to me and saying they saw me on his Instagram page [mtsportsphoto]. I have to tell them he’s my Dad, they don’t even realise. They know my Dad through athletics and they know me through athletics, but not a lot of people actually know he’s my Dad!”

The Australian 3000m Championships headline a blockbuster Chemist Warehouse Sydney Track Classic at E.S Marks Athletics Field this Saturday, with entry lists available HERE and tickets available HERE.

By Lachlan Moorhouse, Athletics Australia
Posted: 21/3/2023