News & Updates

7 September 2023 • Track and Field

Beamish fuelled with confidence for Paris 2024

George Beamish cruises through his heat at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest. Credit: Michael Dawson

Steeplechase ace George Beamish reflects on his stunning performance at the 2023 World Athletics Championships and looks forward with optimism to the Paris 2024 Olympics where he hopes to make the most of his passion for the cut and thrust of championship competition.

George Beamish insists his performance at the World Athletics Championships when fifth in the 3000m steeplechase has filled him with confidence, but his feet remain firmly grounded leading into his Paris Olympic challenge next year.

In just his first year of senior steeplechasing, the 26-year-old US-based Kiwi has enjoyed a meteoric rise in his new event. Lowering the 39-year-old New Zealand record in the men’s 3000m steeplechase in just his sixth races over the senior barriers in Monaco and producing the best ever Kiwi male track performance in the history of the World Athletics Championships in Budapest the season could not have got much better.

Reflecting on his display in Budapest the former Whanganui Collegiate student says: “It already feels like so long ago. But what needs to be remembered as an athlete is not to get too carried away by one good performance. Yes, I was satisfied with Budapest, but I’m now setting my sights on the Diamond League final (in Eugene) and then returning to training in the fall.”

Without doubt George produced one of the most eye-catching displays by a Kiwi athlete in the Hungarian capital. He looked supreme when cruising through his first round heat in second before backing this up in the final to finish like a steam train over the final lap and finish fifth – just 0.20 shy of his national record.

Reflecting with Athletics NZ on his championship exploits in Budapest he admits the heats acted as a huge confidence boost for George, who grew up living on a sheep and beef farm about 50km inland from the Hawke’s Bay coast.

“If it had been a Diamond League race, I think I would have had a good crack at 8:10,” he recalls of how good he felt in his heat, which took place on the opening morning of the World Championships. “The whole point of the season was to feel as good as possible on the first day of worlds and we ticked that box. I felt really good in the week leading up to the race and the last two workouts I had in St Moritz (before worlds) things were moving really well. We timed that peak well, and it was the best I felt on a starting line this season.

“I also felt an extra excitement that I was competing in a World Championships heat. I enjoy the anticipation of competing in the rounds with all the mind games that go on. The championship rounds are a cool part of the sport, so to run that well gave me a tonne of confidence.”

With the heats taking place on Saturday morning (Budapest time) and the final not until the following Tuesday, George faced a patient wait for the medal race. Undergoing physio treatment after he was “a little banged up” from his heat he jogged for 30 minutes on the Sunday and on the Monday jogged a “cool” 5km running loop around the island, where the New Zealand team hotel was situated on the middle of the River Danube.

Besides watching the other Kiwi athletes compete, the rest of his time between rounds was spent chilling and resting and he want into the biggest race of his life in a positive frame of mind.

For the final he recalls a first kilometre, which was reached in 2:50, was probably a little slower than anticipated, however, the Boulder-based athlete who is part of the On Athletics Club, said: “I quickly realised I wasn’t as fresh and bouncy as in the first round. I probably wanted to be in the middle of the pack to cover any moves, but I ended up in the back third of the field and this left me further back than I would have wanted. In that final 1200m I kind of missed the ride. I was placed in 14th and that move I was able to cover easily in the heats, I was not in position to carry out that same mid-lap surge. I think if I had been in fifth of sixth with a lap or so to go a medal was on the cards for sure. “

Despite being left a little too far back to attack the podium positions, George finished like a steam train over the final lap. Advancing from eighth to fifth he finished with a wet sail to complete an outstanding performance – just 1.48 seconds behind Kenya’s Abraham Kibiwot, the bronze medallist.

“I had a feeling on that last lap there was places to be gained. I used the adrenaline from the crowd in the stadium to make something happen and I was able to pick up quite a few places on that final lap,’ he recalls. “Once you get a surge (and you pass an athlete) you focus on the next athlete. I could see third, fourth and fifth ahead of me, so when I got to sixth, I thought, okay, (let’s pass) one more.”

Post-race photographers snapped a great image of George sat on the steeplechase barrier with his head on his hands trying to process his fantastic display. So, can the 26-year-old Kiwi recall the emotions he was experiencing at this time?

“It was just the realisation of how close I’d come to a medal,” he recalls. “I was looking at the scoreboard and just trying to soak in the atmosphere and trying to make the most of it before the organisers kick you off the track.”

Returning home quickly to his training base in Boulder, Colorado, where he is coached by Dathan Ritzenhein, George admitted for the first week back he felt “very average” following his World Championships exertions and “not like the fifth best steeplechaser” in the world.

However, gradually he has rediscovered his zip and he is looking forward to returning to the competitive arena on Monday morning (NZ time) in the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York – an iconic road mile in which he finished sixth year – before climaxing his season with a 3000m steeplechase outing for 2023 in the Diamond League Final in Eugene (17-18 September NZ time).

“The chances are the race will be quite fast, although as it takes place in the middle of the day, I’m not sure what part that will play (on the time),” he adds of the final. “A nice goal would be to be ranked in the top ten in the world (in steeplechase) at the end of the season. I’m ranked ninth, so one more solid performance will keep me in the top ten – it would be a good way to finish the season.”

After only making his senior steeplechase debut (he competed twice in the 2000m steeplechase as an U18 athlete) in April his rise in the new event has been nothing short of sensational. But given this where does he feel he can improve leading into the Paris Olympics next year.

“The biggest thing will be building another year of training. The steeplechase is still a running race and that will be 90 percent of it. But there is time to be gained from hurdling. The more I hurdle hopefully the less that load will take out of me, so even if I gain half a percent or one percent that will allow me to do better in the race.

“But I feel being a championship racer is different to performing well at a Diamond League. In Monaco (when George set his national 3000m steeplechase record of 8:13.26) the leaders were maybe 100m in front of me but racing championships is a different game. You are rewarded for your race tactics and there are so many variables to deal with. I enjoy the mind games of championship racing, so I’m really looking forward to next year.”