• BY:NICOLE JEFFERY
• From:The Australian
• May 26, 2012 12:00AM
DESPITE a proud history in the men's 1500m going back to John Landy and Herb Elliott, Australia has not had an Olympic finalist in the event for 36 years.
But national record-holder Ryan Gregson, 22, is planning to change that in London.
"I think it's a realistic goal to make the final," he declared as he embarked on his pre-Olympic preparation in Europe.
Gregson has finally shrugged off the lower-leg injuries that derailed him in 2010, after he set the national record of 3min 31.06sec which lifted him into the world's top five, and he has had his best start to a season this year.
He defeated reigning Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop at the Australian Olympic trials in March, and confirmed his strong form with the second-fastest race of his life (3:33.96) at the first round of the Diamond League in Doha this month.
He was 11th across the finish line (behind seven Kenyans in the fastest race for two years) but comfortably inside the Olympic qualifying standard (3:35.50), which he needed to earn his place in his first Olympic team.
"I was watching the clock the whole time," he confessed. "Nic (his coach Nic Bideau) said to me: 'Don't try and be that competitive in this race, run conservatively', which was hard for me because I like to be in the thick of it, but I knew it was my best chance of qualifying."
It was at the Olympic trials that convinced Gregson he had fully recovered from the trials of the past two years and was ready to contend again at world level.
"That was a complete surprise, to win that over the Olympic champion and silver medallist. I didn't expect that because I didn't have that much running in my legs after tearing my calf."
Gregson, who suffers from flat feet, was running with orthotics in his shoes before he sustained a stress fracture in his left foot in August, 2010. He experimented running without the supports early last year, but was injured again and has now returned to a different type of orthotic.
Under the guidance of Irish physiotherapist to the stars, Gerard Hartmann, and his colleague Ger Keane, he has undertaken a strength program to take pressure off his feet by strengthening his ankles, knees and hips to stop him "collapsing" through his body when he runs.
"Since then, I have been fine," he said.
Gregson believes consistency is now the key to contending for major championship medals in the years to come.
"I'd love to be consistently at the top of the field," he said.
"I have run a couple of fast races but I haven't been consistent because of the injuries."
New Zealander Nick Willis has become the patron saint of aspiring non-African 1500m runners since the Beijing Olympics, when he broke their monopoly to win the silver medal.
"As Willis showed, anything can happen," Gregson said.
"If I finish this year as an Olympic finalist, after the last couple of years, I'll be very happy."
For the past few years, many of the leading Kenyan athletes have spent a training stint in Australia over the summer and Gregson said that had taken the intimidation factor away when he raced them.
"Every guy that I am going to come up against this year in the Olympic Games I have beaten at some point," he said.
After a warm-up race in Rabat, Morocco, tomorrow, he will face the Kenyans again in the annual Dream Mile in Oslo on June 7, his main aim before he plunges back into his final training block for the Olympics.
"My best mile is 3min 52sec, so I haven't really got a good one out, but I'd like to go around 3:50," Gregson said.
He arrived back at his London base this month, but he is resisting any temptation to check out the Olympic stadium before the Games. "I will look at it when I walk out for my heat."