Introducing Stewart McSweyn – the King Island farmer’s son, middle-distance running phenomenon and generational talent that nobody in Australia seems to know.
STEWART McSWEYN is striking when he runs. And that makes sense, for greatness is striking, so it tends to look that way, too. Running itself is universal, of course – elemental even – yet the gait, rhythm and stride of champions is often as unique as the furrows and ridges of a fingerprint.
The legendary Australian miler John Landy, for instance, ran like an ostrich, powerful thigh muscles doing most of the work. His contemporary Ron Clarke strode with focused fury, like an enraged bull. The great Herb Elliott – according to the late great sports writer Harry Gordon – moved more fluidly, like a cheetah, “flowing as if his body weren’t touching the ground”.
For this meditation on McSweyn – a 26-year-old middle-distance phenomenon and Olympic medal chance from King Island – I want a similar zoomorphic comparison. I want him to dart with the twitchy
propulsion of an antelope. Or gallop like a gallant thoroughbred, surging at his own urging. But what do I see while studying him, racing and training in suburban Melbourne? What does the skinny mid-career runner look like doing track work in Glen Waverley or tempo running on lush grass at Caulfield Racecourse or gravelly hill climbs in Wattle Park?
He looks awkward. Stilted and jerky. Robotic even. His head juts forward disconcertingly. He bounds on his toes. His ankles barely flex and his heels scarcely touch the ground. He looks in truth as though he might trip over at any given moment. Countless online forums are devoted to running mechanics – where boffins argue over hip activation and trunk counter rotation, or whether it’s better to land mid-foot or fore-foot – but as retired athletics commentator Bruce McAvaney notes, it doesn’t really matter.
“The sprinter Michael Johnson sat strangely bolt upright when he ran,” McAvaney says. “The great Emil Zatopek looked like he was dying in pain every 10 metres. Not every star can look as beautiful as Carl Lewis….”
Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen