McCann relieved to escape the burning bush
By Simon Turnbull, THE INDEPENDENT, London, 13 January 2002
Kerryn McCann has two targets in sight for 2002. She wants to break the Australian women's marathon record in Osaka on 27 January and strike gold in the Commonwealth Games marathon in Manchester on 28 July. Until last week, though, the leading lady of Australian distance running could not see very far at all as she struggled to clock up her weekly 112 miles in training. "It was just so smoky," she said. "Where we live is right in between the mountains and the sea and I couldn't see the mountains because of the smoke. It was really bad."
Home to McCann is Coledale, a northern suburb of Wollongong, 50 miles south of Sydney. She lives there with her husband, Greg, and their four-year-old son, Brenton. It happens to be next to the mountains of the Southern Highlands and the waters of the South Pacific. It has also been bordered of late by the bush fires that have swept through New South Wales.
"I was breathing in the smoke every time I ran," McCann said. "I had terrible headaches and a really sore throat. I was glad to get out of it." With the Osaka race in mind, McCann has escaped the suffocating smoke of New South Wales for the clear air of Falls Creek, high in the Snowy Mountains in Victoria. The Australian athletics federation, Athletics Australia, have a training camp there.
"It's been heaps better up here," McCann said on Friday night, after the second of her two daily training runs. "I've been able to get in some good training and I've felt fine. When I drove from Coledale it took about an hour and a half before I could see blue sky. It was quite amazing. But, yeah, it's nice to get up here in the fresh air."
It has not been quite so nice for McCann's husband, though. He is still in Coledale, fighting the New South Wales fires. "He's a retained firefighter, which means you're called up whenever you're needed," Mrs McCann said. "I think today's the first day he hasn't had to be called out to a fire and they have been going on since Christmas. It's been a bit scary."
Greg McCann is a former Australian surfing champion. His wife is a two-time Australian marathon champion and now, at 34, she wants to be the Australian marathon record-holder. For 14 years now the record has been in the possession of Lisa Ondieki, who took the silver medal behind Portugal's Rosa Mota in the 1988 Olympic marathon and who won the Commonwealth Games marathons in Edinburgh in 1986 and in Auckland in 1990. The best time of her career was the 2hr 23min 51sec she recorded in winning the 1988 edition of the women-only Osaka race.
"I have been trying to get that record for the past few years," Kerryn McCann said. "I think I am in my best shape ever, so it has got to be the best time to go for it. It would be nice to get the Australian record in Osaka, on the same course where Lisa Ondieki set it."
McCann has broken an Ondieki record on Japanese soil before. Two years ago she clocked a stunning 67min 48sec in the Tokyo half-marathon, breaking Ondieki's national record for the distance by 45 seconds.
She has also hit an impressive vein of form over the full marathon distance in the past two years – with the help of Chris Wardlaw, the coach who guided the Australian marathon legend Steve Moneghetti to Commonwealth gold and world championship bronze in an international career which spanned 15 years. McCann finished fifth in the 2000 London Marathon, in 2hr 25min 59sec, her best time to date. She also placed 11th in the Sydney Olympic marathon and was third in Chicago last October, in the race in which Catherine Ndereba of Kenya improved the world record to 2hr 18min 47sec.
"Things have been going well," McCann said. "I came up to Falls Creek before I broke the half-marathon record in Tokyo, so I'm sort of hoping to do the same thing. My training has been as good as it was then and that gives me the confidence to go out and run a hard race in Japan on the 27th. It's done me good, coming up here." It has apparently done her manager's partner a lot of good too. Sonia O'Sullivan, the companion of Nic Bideau, Australia's leading athletics agent, has been treading the trails at Falls Creek, running 50 minutes a day just two weeks after giving birth to her second child, Sophie.
The Irish thoroughbred is eager to get back into shape for the world cross-country championships, which take place on her native turf, at Leopardstown Racecourse, in March. "She looks fit," McCann reported. "She doesn't look like she's just had a baby. That's for sure."