Triple challenge whets the appetite for Camille Buscomb on the long road to Tokyo

Camille Buscomb has done her level-best to embrace the difficult in 2021. It is fitting, with that in mind, she winds down her Kiwi summer by attempting an unprecedented, and mind-boggling, trifecta at next weekends national athletics championships in Hastings.
The Tokyo Olympics-bound Waikato athlete will race the 800 metres, 1500m and 5000m in Hastings which is a programme even more astounding when you consider the postponed championships have been pared back to just two days (March 26 and 27). She is a red-hot prospect to win all three a potential feat that had Athletics New Zealand officials combing the record books this week to see if it had been done before.

Their view is that it is extremely rare for an athlete to even attempt that triple, and to win all three would likely present an unprecedented achievement.

Buscomb, for her part, shrugs off the significance. One of the things she has figured out during these unprecedented times is that you take your challenges where you can get them. This season-ending competition overload is just the latest example of that.

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Its a mindset shes hoping will advance her quest for special things at the Tokyo Olympics later this year where she will race the 5000 and 10,000m. Take yourself out of your comfort zone as much as possible and eventually it just becomes second nature.

Thats the theory at least.

Its going to be a busy two days, she says of a schedule that encompasses the 800m and 5000m finals on Friday, three and a-half hours apart, and then the 1500m on Saturday. I really like the mental challenge of the turnaround. Its easy to build yourself up for one race, but its hard knowing youve got to back up the next day, or even the same day.

You need to give all your energy to each race and its about mental toughness. Running the 5-10k at the Olympics, theres more time in between, but its the same process. Youve got a 5k heat, three days later the 5k final, six days later the 10k its trying to recreate the turnaround and mental challenge.

Alisha Lovrich/Athletics NZ
Camille Buscomb gained valuable big-meet experience at the world championships in Doha in 2019.

Thats been Buscombs driver since the world got turned on its head and she essentially became confined to barracks in New Zealand through 2020 and for the summer of 21. It has been all about making the best of a difficult situation while waiting for the world to open back up again.

Because the 30-year-old from Cambridge had already tucked away those qualifying times for Tokyo (achieved in 2019 at the world championships), she has used the Kiwi summer to search for harder racing and push towards a peak for Tokyo.

Thats seen her race exclusively over the middle-distances, where the competition has been much more intense from Rebekah Greene and Katherine Camp (her key rivals over the 800 and 1500 in Hastings), and she has felt like she has made gains in areas such as speed, tactics and mental strength.

The season started a little wobbly when she was third (behind Greene and Camp) in the 800m at the Potts Classic, but since then she has rattled off four consecutive victories, in the mile at the Cooks Classic, the 800 at the ITM in Christchurch, the 1500 at Porritt and 1500 at the Sir Graeme Douglas meet in Auckland.

Christel Yardley/Stuff
Camille Buscomb: 'Ive been trying to create challenges and excitement over this really horrible, kind of odd year'.

Ive been trying to create challenges and excitement over this really horrible, kind of odd year, she says. Its a combination of the competition, the pace, and different tactics. If Im doing a 5k in New Zealand Im out running on my own, not learning anything, not practising, not having to worry about catching someone, or pushing the pace, or getting around someone.

In the big races there are always people around, and its about thinking quickly on your feet, which is what Ive been trying to work on this summer.

At first Buscomb was devastated when Covid unfolded and the Tokyo Games were subsequently postponed she and fianc Cameron French (a top 400m hurdler who hopes to join his wife-to-be in Tokyo) had returned from their northern base in Bath, England, for her sisters wedding in March of 2020, and essentially never left.

Since 2016 she has been coached by Nic Bidau out of the renowned Melbourne Track Club in an association she is sure is brharapg the best out in her. Typically they spend the northern summers in either the US or Europe, training at altitude or chasing events, and return south for the off-season, with Buscomb splitting her time between New Zealand and Australia.

She hasnt seen the group of distance athletes Bideau trains since the 2019 world championships, and is desperate to rejoin them. The plan is they will venture out soon to prepare for Tokyo, though quite how that looks in this world at present remains very much a work in progress.

John Davidson/Photosport
Tokyo-bound Camille Buscomb will run the 800, 1500 and 5000 metres at the national championships in Hastings.

If Im going to Tokyo, I want to do well, so between now and then its crucial I get this next phase right, she says. Ideally Id be heading to Australia soon to join up with my group and then travel with them. It is a balancing act but staying in New Zealand and training by myself is not going to get me running as fast as I need to for Tokyo. Being careful and staying healthy is the priority, but if you dont take some risks competing well is going to be very hard.

Buscomb has big aims for Tokyo. She was 12th in both the 5000 and 10,000m finals in Doha (when she set PBs of 14min 58.59sec and 31:13.21) and would like to improve on that. She has Kimberly Smiths New Zealand records in her sights (14.39.89 and 30.35.54 respectively) and believes top-10 finishes in both are a reality.

So much of it is about the next few months, she says. Ive trained really well over the last year, had no injuries, no sickness, and been really consistent. Ive done shorter races and longer races, and if I get this next stage right I think I can run well.

Buscomb hopes against hope French will be there competing alongside her in Tokyo. His task is somewhat trickier as he still needs to tick off a qualifying time, or improve his ranking significantly. His PB is 49.33s and the Games standard is 48.90.

Were in different positions hes chasing a qualifier and Im all about the preparation, so we will be taking slightly different routes. Its hard but not impossible for him. Hes so close you kind of have to try. Hes starting to come into good form, and if he can get over there (to Europe) and get in the right races

Michael Dodge/Getty Images
Hurdler Cameron French hopes to join his fiance in Tokyo if he can improve his PB over the next few months.

Whatever happens, the pair will wed in January of 2022, and they hope their friends from all parts of the globe will be able to join them. In the meantime they very much have each others backs as they chase their respective ambitions with the singular focus that is a necessity at this level of sport.

We both get what were going through, and are very supportive of each other, says Buscomb. Sometimes it can be hard because you want the other to succeed so much but we try not to talk a lot about athletics when were together. That would be just too much.

All in all Buscomb feels positive about the position shes in, even if there are still plenty of unknowns to wade through between now and Tokyo.

Ive had challenges every year way worse than this, she shrugs. You focus on the things you have and youre equipped to handle stuff. When I qualified for the Olympics I remember thinking, yay, I did it, maybe next year is not going be as hard. Then of course it was the opposite. But Im also thinking Im prepared and this year will be a case of the best prepared will do the best and cope the best.

That preparation takes a big step up this weekend in Hastings: a triple challenge to whet the appetite for the long road ahead.


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