The prospect of testing himself against some of the biggest British athletes is something that is spurring Oliver Dustin (coach: Graeme Mason; club: Border) as he gears himself up for the 2020 track season.
Dustin rocketed into the limelight on the international stage as he won the 800m at the European Under-20 Championships in Borås, Sweden, with fellow Brits Ben Pattison (Dave Ragan; Basingstoke & Mid Hants) and Finley McLear (Kirk Salmon; Exeter) taking silver and bronze respectively.
It was the first time that three British men had locked out the top three places on the podium at the championships since 2005 in Kaunus, Lithuania, when Craig Pickering, Simeon Williamson and Alexander Nelson completed the feat in the men’s 100m.
Recollecting his thoughts on the incredible achievement, Dustin said: “It was crazy, I didn’t know if we had the 1-2-3 because I went past Finley with about 50m to go and he was already falling over that point and I had no idea if he’d made it over the line but thankfully he had.
“It doesn’t happen very often but it’s incredible when it does. We knew coming in that we were the ones to beat coming into it based on times alone but there’s always an outsider that could be a curveball but we were more than prepared.
“In the last 100m, I was confident because I knew I had the best sprint finish and even then, it took everything out of me to get to the finish line, it was the hardest I’ve ever had to dig.
“I can’t fully remember finishing but I know I was using every muscle in my body, straining to get across the line. Coming up alongside Ben, I didn’t know if I was going to make it and I remember having to twist my hips in order for my legs to go forward because I couldn’t run at that point.
“We both had to dip across the line because it was that close. It shows the depth that we’ve got because one second was basically the difference between winning and not getting a medal.”
Without a major age-group championship to target since moving up to the Under-23 age group, his focus has switched to seeing if he can mix it in with the senior athletes across the domestic track season in the UK.
Having made a huge near-three second improvement down to 1:46.84 last year, he broke into the British all-time top 10 and this year hopes to continue on his upward trajectory and push some of the event’s bigger names close.
He hopes that he can show that he is ready to mix it on the international stage, with the reward of a senior British vest still dangling tantalisingly in front of him.
“I’m throwing myself in with the seniors and I’m excited to see what I can do,” he assessed. “I’ve not set a target for myself but I’ve made big improvements in the winter compared to last year and I’m excited to get stuck in and target some senior GB vests.
“The prospect of racing against some 1:45 and 1:44 guys over 800m is really exciting and to challenge them is an exhilarating thought. If it comes down to a sprint finish, I want to see if I still have the legs to beat them and it’s going to be a massive learning curve and experience.
“Things might not go as I want them to but that’s OK because I’m not constrained by a specific target. Last year it was all about European Under-20s and I don’t have that this time around so I can have some fun with it and hopefully pick up a few good wins.
“That said, I do want to try and win BUCS which is very early on in the season, provided it still goes ahead, but then I’m planning on going to the Olympic trials and giving it everything there, then see whether we go to Tokyo, or Paris or anything else in-between.”
Dustin’s performances over the 2019 season saw him earn a place on the British Athletics Futures Programme, which supports athletes that British Athletics have identified as having the potential to step up onto the Olympic and Paralympic programmes in the future.
The 19-year-old was one of those at the recent Futures Camp in Loughborough, where the focus was on the decision making of athletes in a variety of differing situations, as well as offering all athletes on the programme access to the National Performance Institute’s world class facilities.
Being a part of the programme is something that the Cumbrian takes great pride in and feels that he can continue to show a strong rate of progression as he progresses through his first season as an Under-23.
He added: “Being a part of Futures is great and the camps are so beneficial, heading to Loughborough and getting the change of environment to be in that group and accessing all the different practitioners available is something I find is really helpful.
“It helps me to professionalise my training environment and gives me all the support for everything I could possibly need. Also learning off the other athletes on the programme is hugely beneficial for me in my career moving forwards.
“At the most recent camp, we focused on decision making and Holly Mills talked about the experience in the heptathlon in Borås where in the first round throw of the shot put, she had a no throw and had never had to deal with that before and how she got lost mentally.
“I’m making use of all the support that’s available to me and going to Loughborough is great for me. I’m really enjoying working with Jenny Meadows as my point of contact, she’s been fantastic with me.
“Jenny has been there and done that and has gone right to the very top from a similar level that all us Futures guys are at now. She’s been through the system, knows how it works and has looked after me so well since I came onto the programme.
“If I ever need anything I know exactly who to turn to. She knows what it’s like and to me, that’s the most important thing. I listen to her because she has the experience whereas I’m 19 and don’t yet have that experience to my name and I’m really getting a lot out of it.”