This year’s Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast was a chance for many homegrown Australian athletes to test their skills against some of the best in the world. 

Dave McNeill, Australian Olympic and Commonwealth Games long distance runner in the 5,000 metre and 10,000 metre events had high hopes of medalling leading into Gold Coast, but after months of training, as bad luck would have it, he suffered an injury just weeks before the Games. 

In true grit spirt, Dave trained on and qualified for the Men’s 5000 metre event and won his ticket to the Games. On 8 April, Dave ran a gutsy 12th place in the final with a time of 14min 25 secs.

Dave running in the 5000m final, during the Games. Source: Norman Katende (Nation Media Group)

Like many of our unsung heroes in athletics, Dave may not be as well known as our ‘footy’ stars. Nonetheless, mild mannered and the consummate professional, he is a true sporting champion and role model. I sat down to hear his Games experience.

What were your expectations going into the games?

“My expectations unfortunately evolved over the course of time between the selection trials (in February) and the Games. After being selected and running the fastest I had in 6 years, I had high expectations of consolidating what I had done, and giving myself every physical and mental opportunity of contending for a medal. Unfortunately, with 3 weeks to go, I quite suddenly fractured a bone spur in my sacroiliac joint, and then didn’t run a step for the 3 weeks before the race. And so over that time, my goal became about getting to the start line, and just being tough. I was able to do that.”

Overall, are you happy with how it went?

 “It wasn’t what I had hoped and prepared for, but that is the nature of elite sport.  Injuries are an occupational hazard of the endeavour, and it pays to try and keep an even keel when faced with the highs and lows of the sport. Although there was much disappointment around the experience, I try to make a habit these days of focusing on the positives in any situation, and focusing on the things I can control. The positives were I had an incredible team of friends and family around me who got me to the start line. There is a lot of gratitude around that!”

Dave enjoying the moment with family and friends.

What was your biggest highlight of the games?

“It was an incredibly special honour to represent Australia at a home Commonwealth Games. I will never forget seeing my friends in the crowd before the gun went off and the roar of the sold-out crowd when all the Australians were introduced. And as it is with every opportunity I’ve had to run for Australia, the highlight is always sharing it with my family afterwards. I was glad to get a hug from Mum and Dad as I limped out of the stadium.”

What did you think of having an integrated Games with the para-athletes?

“In an age where the fight for equality is so much more ingrained in the culture of so many more Australians, it was a necessary and successful initiative. Equality doesn’t just happen – it requires proactivity, and I think the integrated approach showed to the world that sport is a universal language, and it need not be divided by ability or disability.”

Are you going to try for the Olympics?

Why not! Try is all I can do.”

How do you rank Australia’s track and field performance? 

“Australia did remarkably well. It goes to show what a home ground advantage can bring to one’s performances. I hope Australian Athletics continues to ride the wave of momentum it created on the Gold Coast. And for all the athletes who left the Games with a little extra fire in the belly, hopefully they too will have their opportunity to carry the flame and make their mark on world athletics.”

Dave has represented Australia at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where he ran 16th place in the 10,000 metre final, and previously at the 2012 London Olympics. He is a member of the Old Xaverian’s Athletic Club in Melbourne, having gone to school at Xavier College in Kew.

Dave is currently studying for a Doctor of Physiotherapy degree at University of Melbourne and intends to have a career in that profession. We can almost bank on the fact that he’ll have many runners on his books!

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