By Brett Davies
With Aussie distance legend Steve Moneghetti celebrating his 60th birthday this week (on the 26/9) this 3-part special, looks at his greatest performances and his influence on Australian athletics. Following on from part 1, this part looks at 5 more of his greatest races.
World Championships Half Marathon, Brussels October 1993:
Moneghetti was among the big favourites for this event, though he had a formidable opponent in local distance star Vincent Rousseau. The smooth striding Belgian had a great track pedigree, having been a European and World Championship finalist and he owned an impressive array of PBs from the 1500m up to the longer road races and was a dominant cross country runner at the national level. There was also the likes of Kenyan stars Tom Osano and Lameck Aguta, as well as the previous year’s silver medallist Antonio Silio of Argentina and the Commonwealth 1 hour track run record-holder, Brit Carl Thackery (Calli’s Dad).
The Aussies had a solid team, with talented Queenslander Pat Carroll, Carroll’s fellow AIS alumus and former national champion Rod Higgins and a resurgent veteran from NSW, John Andrews, joining Moneghetti in Belgium.
The race began and, as expected, the pace was solid from the gun. Moneghetti was at the front of the pack, pushing the pace from very early in the race. The field strung out a little, though there was still a pack of about 10 runners together until well after halfway. As Moneghetti sustained the tempo (around 2.53-2.54 per km pace) and began to surge, the Belgian Rousseau was there, looking ominous. Still clinging to the pack, but drifting off the pace slightly, was Andrews, who was running the race of his life.
Into the final kilometre, Rousseau began to move and within the last few hundred metres, he began to pull away from Moneghetti and Thackery. Rousseau had a memorable win in front of his ecstatic local supporters. He crossed the line in 1.01.06, from Moneghetti (1.01.10) and Thackery (1.01.13). Though defeated, Moneghetti had run himself to his absolute limit and he had his highest ever placing at a global championship.
Pat Carroll had a very solid 35th placing to be Australia’s third scorer for the team event and Higgins came in 38th in 1.03.08, but it was the 7th place finish of John Andrews that was the Australian performance that was almost as impressive as Moneghetti’s. The 35 year-old Andrews, who had been a finalist in the 1982 Commonwealth Games 5000m and had been a top 30 finisher in the World Cross Country Championships, had raced sporadically in recent years, due to caring for a young family and holding down a demanding full-time job. After laying the groundwork for a big year by grinding out some intensive, high-volume training earlier in the year – much of it around the bush tracks of Ourimbah – he had run well at the Gold Coast Half Marathon and the recent City to Surf race. In Brussels, Andrews slashed his PB by the best part of 2 minutes and finished in 1.01.37 to move past Mal Norwood and fellow Central Coast NSW resident Paul Arthur to become the third fastest Australian ever.
It was also the greatest performance by an Australian distance running team ever. The aggregate time of Moneghetti, Andrews and Carroll was just 3 seconds outside the gold medal-winning aggregate time of the Kenyan team. That the Aussies were almost able to pull off one of the biggest upsets in world athletics, is testament to not only Moneghetti’s gutsy, aggressive running, but also his inspirational presence. His successes in recent years – as well as those of recently retired Rob de Castella – had helped to raise the bar for his fellow countrymen and had given them the belief that they could also be successful. Here in Belgium, that team spirit and confidence that Mona had helped engender, had reaped a huge reward.
Tokyo Marathon, February 1994:
This was Moneghetti’s second big city marathon win. It was a huge confidence builder after the disappointment of the Barcelona Olympic Marathon in 1992. Moneghetti was focused on the Commonwealth Games later in the year, but this race was a big test. He had not run a fast marathon since Berlin 3-and-a-half years ago and had, by his own admission, lost some confidence in his ability to run a fast marathon.
Tokyo, however, had proved a happy hunting ground for Mona, as he had come here to run the half marathon the two previous years and had not only won both races, but had broken the world record in the process.
He would be challenged by one of his big rivals Vincent Rousseau. Rousseau, though still a track runner was now focused on longer events. He had run a brilliant PB just a few weeks earlier in the Tokyo Half Marathon (1.00.23 – among the fastest ever run) and facing the Belgian was a daunting prospect for Moneghetti.
The athletes faced freezing conditions, with some snow along the course. Moneghetti was at or near the front the whole race and began to make his presence felt as the race wore on. He was conscious not to let the pace lag and began to apply pressure as they approached the closing stages. Surging hard into the final kilometres, Moneghetti began to open some space and came to the finish a clear leader, some 60 metres in front of Rousseau. Moneghetti finished in 2.08.55 to Rousseau’s 2.09.08.
It was a great win for Moneghetti, who had run his then second fastest time, had won another prestigious big race and he had gained revenge for his defeat in Brussels by Rousseau in the World Half Marathon Championships the previous October. Rousseau would win the Rotterdam Marathon that year as well as a silver in the European Championships, so Moneghetti’s win was one over world’s top distance athletes of the era. Rousseau’s successes are part of a rich tradition of Belgian distance running, which follow on from the exploits in the ‘60s of Olympic champion Gaston Roelants, through to Emiel Puttemans, Karel Lismont, Ivo van Damme, Leon Schots, Alex Hagelsteens and Rousseau. One can find some videos of Rousseau online where, if you’ve brushed up on your Flemish, you can listen to the Belgian waffle about his athletic successes over the years.
It was a nice payday, a major career highlight and a great marathon comeback for Moneghetti.
World Cross Country Championships, Stavanger Norway, March 1989:
Moneghetti was quite an accomplished cross-country runner. Over a period of almost 2 decades (1985-2004), he competed in 11 World Cross Country Championships, finishing in the top ten twice, in the top 20 five times and he had 8 top 30 finishes in total.
Here Moneghetti, with his fourth place finish, achieved what was, until Benita Willis’ epic win in Brussels in 2004, the highest placing by an Australian at the World Cross Country Championships. This was a crucial lead up race before the London Marathon and Mona was keen to improve upon his previous best of placing (11th in 1987) in the event.
The event was held on a golf course in the small city in the south-west of Norway. Overnight, there had been torrential rain and the course had become an absolute quagmire.
John Ngugi, leading a strong Kenyan squad, was one of the most dominant cross country runners in history. With 5 wins between 1986 and 1992, only countryman Paul Tergat who had 5 consecutive wins (1995-1999) and the legendary Kenenisa Bekele, who had 5 consecutive wins in the short course event and 6 long course wins (5 consecutive) could lay claim to a greater record.
Ngugi won his 4th consecutive title here and it was by the greatest margin in the history of the event. He beat Brit Tim Hutchings (now a well-respected international athletics commentator) by 28 seconds and the winner of the 1988 Olympic 5000m was unstoppable over the gruelling 12 kilometre course.
The women’s event was won by Frenchwoman Annette Sergeant, who kicked away to a convincing win. The big surprise for the Aussies was the 5th place finish by Jackie Perkins. Perkins had run the 3000m in the 1987 World Championships and had run well in the Zatopek event that year, but here she surprised even herself with a gusty come-from-behind run.
The men’s race was led in the early stages by Andrew Masai (KEN) and briefly by mulleted Frenchman Thierry Pantel. At about 4km, Ngugi joined the lead pack, which included Ezequiel Canario (POR), Hutchings and Masai, and soon exerted his authority, surging hard and opening a 20m gap over the next few hundred metres.
As Ngugi built his lead, Moneghetti, meanwhile, had begun conservatively, and was slowly working his way through the field. By 4km he was still outside the top 20 and still hadn’t cracked the top 10 until well after halfway. Behind Ngugi, a battle for the minor medals was heating up, with Hutchings, Canario and 19 year-old 1500m specialist Wilfred Kirochi battling it out over the swamp-like course.
Hutchings, who had won a silver in the event behind Carlos Lopes in 1984, was in the form of his career after a stint training at altitude in Kenya. He had reeled in the youngster Kirochi, who was running second, and chased Ngugi, though to no avail, as the long striding Kenyan Ngugi continued to pull away. The conditions underfoot were taking their toll, with many of the field pulling out. Among them, Canario, who succumbed to strained abdominal muscles. The talented Canario ended his race doubled over in pain as Mona swept past and set his sights on Hutchings and Kirochi. Though most found the treacherous course difficult to handle, Mona took to the mud like a duck to water and absolutely revelled in the conditions.
Ngugi glided across the mud to a historic victory in 39.42. Hutchings came in in 40.10, delighted with his performance after missing the Olympics the previous year. Kirochi was holding down 3rd, but in the long finishing straight, Moneghetti was bearing down on him. Mona, having made the wise decision to hold back early in the race, was just 3 seconds from a medal, finishing 4th in 40.24 to Kirochi’s 40.21.
Though Moneghetti’s was a major achievement, most of the other Aussies had a tough time of it. Darren Wilson, at just 20, gave a hint of his future potential, coming in 42nd. Andrew Lloyd was 57th, just one place behind an up-and-coming 22 year-old Moroccan called Khalid Skah. Mal Norwood, Nick de Castella and Adam Hoyle were 59th, 60th and 62nd respectively. Peter Brett was 96th and Jamie Harrison, after a brilliant 32nd the previous year, faded to 161st.
Mona would also run a superb 6th in 1992 against what was probably a deeper field in a competitive race in perhaps equally tough conditions in the mud and snow of Boston, but with Mona just missing a medal, Stavanger just gets the nod as his best cross country performance.
World Championships Marathon, Rome, September 1987:
This was Moneghetti’s second marathon and his 4th place was an extraordinary achievement given his inexperience in the event. Mona had run well in in Edinburgh at the Commonwealth Games Marathon in an impressive 2.11.18 debut performance in winning bronze and would have to be on his game in Rome.
Here there was a great field, which included Djiboutians Ahmed Saleh and Djama Robleh, former London Marathon winner Brit Hugh Jones, Commonwealth medallist and winner of the Tokyo and Fukuoka Marathons Juma Ikangaa (TAN), and European Champion and local hope, Italian Gelindo Bordin and a largely unknown, Japanese-trained Kenyan Douglas Wakiihuri.
Moneghetti was joined by Australian teammates Pete Mitchell, the Gold Coast Marathon winner and, of course, the reigning champion, Rob de Castella. De Castella hadn’t shown much in the way of form recently, apart from a solid win in the Great North Run in June. He had also struggled with niggling injury problems. Still, ‘Deek’ was the champion defending his title and the rest of the field would be wary of the superstar Aussie.
Wakiihuri was something of an enigma. He had yet to establish himself as an international star and, unlike virtually all of his successful compatriots, he was not from the high altitude Rift Valley region, but from Mombassa on the coast. He had, as mentioned, trained in Japan, under a strict regime, adopting the training, diet and the very focused, disciplined approach common amongst elite Japanese marathoners. Kenya, for all their successes in cross country and track distance running, had never won a major championship marathon. Wakiihuri would break the drought here in Rome.
Moneghetti had had a solid year of training and racing and had shown steady improvement with some good race results, most notably at the World Cross Country Championships in Warsaw in March, where he’d finished 11th. Mona looked confident as he jogged around the stadium track before the start.
The race started and the pack rounded the track and left the stadium at a decent clip, with Deek prominent early on. It was the Canadian Peter Maher who took control and upped the tempo, running some ambitious splits for the first few kilometres (He ran 15.16 for the first 5km – 2.08.45 pace) in the warm, humid conditions. The 195cm Maher was unusually large for a marathoner and was an exceptionally prolific racer, sometimes running more than half-a-dozen marathons a year.
Here the pack were content to let the big man go. At 20km, Maher had not slowed too much, but still had a substantial lead. There was, however, a chasing group that included Ikangaa, Jones, Moneghetti and de Castella, that was gradually closing. Moneghetti recalls feeling good at this stage and he spotted a friend from his university days in the crowd. Mona said hi and his shocked friend exchanged a few words with his mate, before the pack drifted away. The pack caught Maher at about 27-28km and, by this time, Deek was in trouble and had drifted off the pack and would eventually drop out. Mona was in the lead pack, along with Ikangaa and Saleh. Jones made a move to the front a little after 30km, but did not gain any sort of break. Meanwhile, Bordin, who was a fair way behind at this stage, was beginning to chase the leading group.
The lead group began to dwindle and by 36km, just Moneghetti, Saleh and Wakiihuri were in the lead, with the pressure mounting, the heat and humidity were taking their toll, the strain etched on the faces of the three leaders, as the bearded Bordin began to close in on them.
Waliihuri shifted gears at around 37km and opened a gap on Saleh. Bordin had caught Moneghetti and they would now battle it out for the bronze.
Wakiihuri had established a 30 second lead by 40km and was going away for an historic Kenyan triumph as Mona was trying, unsuccessfully, to drop the Italian.
The Kenyan ran into the stadium well in front and the 23-year-old relative novice was ecstatic having taken the title in 2.11.48. The rail-thin Djiboutian Saleh won the silver and was 42 seconds behind Wakiihuri.
Bordin and Moneghetti entered the stadium and Bordin had a huge boost from the local crowd and kicked away from the Aussie. Moneghetti had nothing left and could not respond. Bordin finished in the bronze medal position in 2.12.40, to a rapturous reception from Italian fans. A clearly disappointed Moneghetti came in fourth (2.12.49), just in front of Hugh Jones (2.12.54).
Moneghetti, though shattered by just missing a medal, could be proud of a great performance in tough conditions. Having only run one marathon, he had taken on the best in the world and he proved he could hold his own against the world’s elite. It was the first of several battles in major championship with Wakiihuri, who became something of a nemesis for the Aussie. Mona would go into the Olympics the following year with a great boost to his confidence. The 24-year-old Moneghetti was on the rise.
Commonwealth Games Marathon, Victoria, Canada, August 1994:
After a bronze in 1986 and a silver in 1990, Moneghetti was obviously keen to complete the set of Commonwealth medals here in this picturesque British Colombian city.
It was a spectacular event, with some outstanding performances throughout. Olympic and World Champion Linford Christie blew the field away in the 100m, with a stunning 9.91. World Champion Frankie Fredericks (NAM) came out on top in his battle with Englishman John Regis in the 200m and Aussie Cathy Freeman won an historic 200m-400m double and had arrived as a superstar of the sport. She had also courted controversy by displaying the Indigenous flag during victory celebrations. The marathon was also keenly anticipated by fans at the event.
Moneghetti was a clear favourite here but would have some well-credentialled opposition. He had won the Tokyo marathon early in the year and had arrived with plenty of solid training under his belt and was injury-free.
He had a bit of a setback in May, when he was defeated by Pat Carroll in the SMH half marathon in Sydney. Carroll, also in the field for the marathon, produced an astonishing run over the deceptively tough, undulating course around Sydney’s CBD, smashing Moneghetti’s and Tadesse Gebre’s all-comers record, finishing in 1.01.11. Carroll was over a minute-and-a-half in front of Moneghetti and Moneghetti, ever gracious in defeat, was unequivocal in his praise for Carroll’s performance. He has since described it as: “…the most significantly underrated distance running performance on Australian soil – ever.” Carroll, with a PB of 2.10.44 and a range of impressive track PBs from 1500m upwards, was clearly one of the class athletes in the field who could make things tough for Moneghetti.
The third Australian was Sean ‘Doona’ Quilty. Quilty, along with Rod de Highden, Jason Agosta and Dean Paulin, was part of a quartet of talented juniors that emerged from the Doncaster club (VIC) in the mid to late ‘80s. He was primarily a track runner and a national junior 5000m, but had recently turned his attention to the longer races and was successful, taking out the 1993 Gold Coast Marathon. With a wife from Vancouver, Doona was almost a local and, as he toed the starting line, he felt ready for a pretty good run.
The rest of the field contained some solid internationals. Young Kenyan Nicolas Kioko was running, as well as Englishmen Mark Hudspith, Col Moore and Cornish athlete Dave Buzza, who had spent a lot of time training and racing in Australia.There was also local Canadian champion Peter Maher. Maher was now a seasoned veteran, yet was still producing some very consistent marathon performances and racing quite frequently.
Maher took turns at the front of the pack, with Carroll also taking the lead for a section of the early few kilometres, as a there was a light rain beginning to fall. The early pace was sedate,with the first 5km run in around 16.30. It continued like this until after halfway (1.07.35). At about 23km, Moneghetti decided to step things up and he began to assert himself. With a 15.15 split between 25km and 30km, it was only young Kioko and Hudspith were able, or willing, to go with the Aussie. Over the undulating section between 30 and 35km, Moneghetti maintained the tempo and was turning the screws on his opposition and beginning to pull away. Back in the field, Carroll was struggling and Quilty was starting to work his way through the race, maintaining a consistent pace throughout the race.
Now, Moneghetti was flying and was on his way to victory. He ran an astonishing 14.58 split between 35km and 40km and looked full of running. He glided to victory in 2.11.49, having run the second half of the race in 1.04.14. Quilty began to pick of his opposition and finally reeled in Hudspith inside the last kilometre. The Aussies went 1-2. Quilty finished in 2.14.57 and had run the perfectly judged race to pick up the silver. It was a fitting reward for his hard work and dedication over the years. Hudspith won the bronze in 2.15.11. Pat Carroll recovered to come in fifth (2.16.27), with Kioko 6th (2.16.37).
Sadly, we lost Doona this year, at the age of just 56. It is a horrible blow, not just to his family, but to the entire Australian distance running community. He was a life member with the Doncaster club and a well-respected competitor and contributor to athletics for 4 decades. He will be missed.
Moneghetti, who is still involved with the Games to this day, as Chef de Mission for the Australian team, had finally achieved a major career goal in winning the gold and he would go on to win a memorable 10,000m bronze in the heat of Kuala Lumpur four years later. Here in Victoria, Canada, he produced perhaps the most dominant win of his career.
Part 3 of this Steve Moneghetti special will appear in Runners Tribe soon.