Bendere Oboya
Bendere Oboya is all smiles ahead of her comeback race at the Zatopek:10 meet. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS
  • athletics, track and field

Oboya makes eagerly-awaited return in 600 at Zatopek

John Salvado November 30, 2023

Armed with a new coach, a new mindset and targeting a new event, a rejuvenated Bendere Oboya is set to give the Australian 600m record a real shake at the Zatopek:10 meet in Melbourne on Saturday.

There had been a serious danger that the runner once dubbed “the next Cathy Freeman” would be lost to the sport altogether.

A disillusioned Oboya had officially retired early this year after parting ways with a training group that also included Peter Bol.

“I needed to step back and prioritise myself,” said the 23-year-old, who was only 17 when she contested the 400m at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and just 19 when she reached the semis at the 2019 world championships.

“I feel fresher and and more motivated, like I have found myself again.”

A key figure in Oboya’s comeback has been former Australian great Craig Mottram, now the head coach of the Oceania branch of the On Athletics Club (OAC).

He contacted Oboya via Instagram in May, initially to see if she was interested in some school-level coaching.

“I knew at that point she had decided to finish up running so I reached out and said let’s grab a coffee,” said Mottram.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the intention of raising the OAC in that conversation.

“We talked around it and both realised there was interest there and it just evolved from there.”

Despite making her name initially as a 400m runner, Oboya had stepped up to the 800m in the past couple of years – and it is in the two-lap event that Mottram believes she can really make a mark.

“She has a great ceiling at 800 but you have to keep that speed at 400,” Mottram told AAP, noting that the likes of world and Olympic 800m champion Athing Mu and world and Olympic silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson have 400m personal bests of 49.57 and 51.76 respectively.

“If you’re not able to run that quickly it’s going to be hard competitively on the global stage in that event.

“You may be able to run 1:58 or 1;59 but these girls are running 1:55.

“To do that you need to have that top-end speed and Bendere (with a 400m PB of 51.21) has that.”

Oboya’s speed and fast-improving endurance will both come in handy in her comeback race in the 600m at Lakeside Stadium on Saturday, where Tamsyn Manou’s 11-year-old national mark of one minute 25.79 seconds could well be under threat.

But whether the record falls or not, it’s a small step on what coach and runner hope will be a much longer and fruitful journey.

“I feel mentally stronger; I feel so tough,” said Oboya.

“Anything can come my way right now and I will just brush it off and I didn’t have that before.

“I went through a stage where I was so bad with my mental health.

“Now I can literally do what I want.

“I’ve got that experience from the first year of the 800 and mentally I’ve got that experience too.

“I think the fact that the 800 is not easy is why I love it so much.”