Firstly, congratulations on your selection in the Australian team for Rio, an unbelievable achievement for someone so young! Can you tell us a little about yourself, your hobbies, family, and pets, do you go to university or work as well as athletics?
My name is Luke Mathews. I recently turned 21 years old and will be competing in the 800m and 1500m at the Rio 2016 summer Olympic Games. Away from running, I am a university student and am currently studying commerce / law with the plan to major in either accounting or finance. Hoping to have a future in this line, I work at a small accounting firm to fill my days between training. I have 1 dog (Max – a Pomeranian). Away from running I like to go for coffee, watch tv shows, hang out with my mates and put the feet up whilst watching Foxtel.
You have been doing athletics your whole life! What inspired you to get into Athletics?
I’m not sure if there was an exact point that inspired me to start, but I have always done little athletics (as I think most 6-7 year olds do). When I was 9 years old or so, my brother and sister joined a training group, and I followed suit. From there, my athletics journey went from winning club championships, to winning state championships and eventually qualifying from the Olympics. What inspired me to be a ‘better’ runner, would have to be Craig Mottram; he was a man (from the years between 04-08) who was at the top of his game, and as a white Australian beating the might of East Africa inspired myself to be better.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey that led you to qualifying for the Rio Olympics? Had it always been a dream of yours?
I think anyone who picks athletics as their sport has the goal of qualifying for the Olympics. It’s the pinnacle of our sport, and the equivalent of an aspiring junior footballer who wants to play in an AFL grand final, or win a Brownlow. The journey only properly started at the tail end of 2015. Between the ages of 10-19, I had a little bit of success at a junior level, but it doesn’t mean much until you do something in the senior ranks. When I came back from Europe in August of 2015, I told myself and those supporting me that my goal was to make the Rio Olympics. I committed just about everything to ensure I could do that. A lot of early starts, missed night outs, not seeing my mates, and day after day of training – I did it! But the journey doesn’t stop when you make the games, you have to perform on the big stage as well.
What emotions did you feel when you qualified for the Olympics? You had all your family and mates around you, can you describe that feeling?
It was honestly the best feeling of my life, and something that would almost be impossible to recreate. Fortunately enough, I had the chance to do it twice. The first time came when I ran my first Olympic qualifying time (on March 5th at Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne) of 1:45.16. I had just about all my family there, most of my mates and had the home crowd advantage over the current world record holder over 800. I couldn’t quite knock him off, but crossed the line in a qualifying time. I ran straight over to my mates, and it was a really special moment to share this race with the people who I have grown up with. The Olympic trials (National Championships) was something else. The qualifying time I had run didn’t mean a whole heap unless I won the nationals, so there was a lot of pressure. With 100m to go, I was well clear of the field and my dream was slowly becoming a reality. When I crossed the line and had qualified for the Olympic, I was almost in tears. I ran straight over to my mum who has been my biggest supporter on the sport, and shared that moment with her. It was honestly the greatest emotion and feeling I’ve had with athletics, and not sure if there will be another moment in athletics that feels that good.
Now that you’re headed to Rio in August, what’s your goal for racing at the Olympics?
My goal is to qualify for the final. I’ll be competing in two events (800m and 1500m) which means I’ll have to progress through both a heat and semi before running in the final. That being said, making the final is incredibly hard, so I know I will have my work cut out for me! But I have a lot of time between now and the games to keep preparing to ensure I am as fit as possible when I get to the start line.
Can you talk us through the emotions you feel while preparing and just before for a big race? Do you think it will be heightened at Rio?
I try to be pretty low key when I race, because the more nervous you get, you start to feel tired and emotionally drained. Because of this, I try to maintain my nerves until I’m on the start line and use all that nervous energy to help me race. Recently, I have been visualising the race a few days before (thinking about moves I’ll make, where I will position myself etc). This has helped control my emotions. With an Olympics comes great pressure and expectation. I’ll have to just treat the Olympics like every other race, and try deal with it the same way. If you get too excited or too nervous it’ll just take away from your performance.
Do you have rituals you go through before a big race? Do you like to get pumped up and get your adrenaline running or keep a relaxed frame of mind?
The older I get, the less I try to have rituals or superstitions. When I was younger, I wanted to try have things exactly the same, wear the same socks, jocks and just little things that I thought would make me better. The only thing was that if I couldn’t have everything perfect, I used to panic. So now, I try to be more relaxed on my approach. There are still a lot of things I do the same though. I try to have a big meal the night before, whether that be a big bowl of spaghetti bolognaise, or something really solid. I also try to eat 6 hours before to ensure I have enough fuel in my body to race well, but not have a full stomach. An hour before I have some No-Doz, and then start my warm up, which never changes. The hype of racing is enough to get me hyped and the adrenaline pumping. It’s why we train, so if you aren’t excited to race, you may as well leave the sport. There isn’t an exact ‘ritual’ I suppose, but I prepare for races in the same way so that I can mentally switch off and relax.
Can you tell us a bit about the friendships you’ve made over the journey through the sport?
I’ve made some great friendships and relationships since I’ve joined the sport. There are certain people in the athletics community who feel like family. My current training group is great. There is a large group of us who are based in Melbourne, but also travel the world together. We have the same goals in running, but can happily have a beer together afterwards. It’s funny how it works – at one point of time we are on the same start line as some of our best mates about to go to war against each other, but an hour afterwards we are cooling down, recovering and having a beer together. Even when I retire from athletics, I’ll still have life long mates from athletics.
Who are the people over your journey that have helped provide you with support, guidance and motivation? Is there anyone in particular that you look up to as a role model?
It’s hard to narrow it down to individual people because there are so many people in athletics that help you get to the top of your game, but I’ll try name a few. Firstly, my family. Mum and Dad have given me every opportunity to be great in this sport. As you can imagine, running is a very expensive sport, which doesn’t give much back. Luckily, my parents had supported me the whole on this journey and are the reason I’m still running. When times have been tough and I have considered giving it away, Mum and Dad were the people who made me feel better and get on with the sport. Another person is Nic Bideau, my coach. He is the man who turned me into a somewhat overweight ‘OK’ athlete into an Olympian. He is the man – a long with my parents – who is responsible for my success. He is one of the greatest coaches in the world and I’m thankful that he let me join his group. Because of Nic I’ve met some great athletes who I train with everyday that are beneficial to me racing and training well.
Can you tell us about your relationship with training partner Ryan Gregson? Is it beneficial having someone to work with and compete against?
Mine and Ryan’s friendship / relationship is something quite special. We first met when I was 11 years old, and I looked up to the guy, just as a young aspiring footballer would look up to a Luke hodge or Gary Ablett. I would ask him questions and learn new things every few weeks, and he slowly filled the role of being my mentor. When I was 19 or so and joined Nic as my coach, I was just about good enough to have Ryan as my training partner. We do almost every session and travel the world together, which has really helped me make the next step in athletics. Away from the athletics track when I’m trying to chase him, he is constantly teaching me new ways to be better, whether this be with gym, strengthening or dieting. Our friendship over 10 years, which started when I was a primary school student, has flourished into a great friendship, where I would happily call him one of my closest mates. We work really well together because of this. That being said, whenever I race Ryan, I throw everything I can at him and really make him work. And – like I said earlier – immediately after the race we cool down together and have a beer. It’s a really dynamic friendship, and it’s hard to imagine running great times or winning races without Ryan in my life.
There are times where people think negatively, before, during, or after a race. Has there been a specific time when you didn’t feel at your best? Can you tell us how to pushed through, or didn’t?
The mental side of athletics is the hardest thing to manage – you can be one of the fittest blokes in the world, but if you have a moment of doubt, you will get slaughtered in this sport. Before a race, I try to block out any weakness, or anything that might affect me; this might be something as small as having tired legs, or a head ache, or a blocked nose. When you win a race, everything feels great. You have this unexplainable feeling of emotion and joy that is unmatched by anything else. When you run bad, it’s the complete opposite, you consider your existence in the sport, whether it’s all worth it, and you start to doubt yourself. For me -when things have looked down – I try to work out what went wrong and move on to the next thing. At the end of the day, athletics is just a sport, and if you aren’t enjoying it, there is no point being in it. Negativity is something you just have to manage in our sport, and for me, it gets removed when you trust the people around you (such as your coach, training group, parents etc) and enjoy the process. Negativity and doubt can kill you, so the quicker you remove it from your mind, the better.
We all aspire to be like one of the best in our chosen sport, and you are surely an inspiration to a few young athletes. Do you have any words of wisdom or inspiration for them?
Be patient. Enjoy the process. Trust the process.
In athletics, a lot of things come to people who wait and are patient. When you’re at such a high level, the great athletes are the ones who have been in the sport for years and years, and have an underlying amount of fitness. So patience is key. ‘Enjoying’ and ‘trusting’ the process just means to have faith in your coach and those around you, and to remind yourself that these people are trying to make you be great. And if you aren’t enjoying the sport, maybe you should seek enjoyment in another hobby or life choice.
Do you have a favourite quote that inspires you?
“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breath, then you’ll be successful” – Eric Thomas.
Not a huge fan of quotes or anything of the sort, but I don’t mind this one. I think it just shows that to be great, you have to be hungry. Nothing good comes to those who sit around and expect success to be thrust upon them.
How do you achieve a balance between running, work, family, friends, hobbies and interests?
Balancing sport, work, Uni, family and friends is quite tough. At the moment, I’m studying part-time to ensure that I am slowly chipping away at my degree. I may be going through it at a snails pace, but I want to make sure that I have something to my name once I leave this sport. With work, when I’m in Australia, I try to do 1-2 shifts a week just to make sure I have enough cash to my life. I’m lucky enough that I have a great family who all live close. Because my group is based in Melbourne, I get to spend almost everyday with my family when I’m in Australia. Lastly friends, it’s been tough. I’ve had to stop seeing a lot of my friendships lately. With running comes a lot of sacrifice, which includes a lot of Friday and Saturday nights spent at home, and because of this, your group of friends slowly gets smaller. But because of this, you identify who your mates really are, and work out that the ones you want in your life are those who you don’t see for 5-6 months at a time, but an still keep up a relationship once you catch back up. I’m just lucky that I get to travel with some great friends from my training group.
What’s your favourite thing about athletics?
Racing and travelling. There’s no word to describe what it’s like to win a race, or qualify for the Olympics, or run a PB. It’s quite overwhelming, and is the reason I’ve kept with the sport for so long. Travelling is also a great thing about our sport. This year alone, I’ve seen most of Europe and America for the sole purpose of athletics. I get quite a buzz out of living out of a suitcase for months on end.
You’ve travelled all over the world for athletics, where’s your favourite place and why?
London or Falls Creek. London has pretty much become my second home, because it’s our European base. Where we live is great for training. Away from the track, we are a stones throw away from some great cafes and restaurants. It’s hard to miss home (Melbourne), when London is such a warm and inviting place with some great leave. Falls Creek is our Australian altitude base. This season we spent just under 2 months there. It’s great because it’s a hub for distance athletes over summer, and I take a lot of joy out of training with over 150 or so athletes on one of the many trails around falls.
On a day off the track, where can we find you?
When I’m not at the track, you can find me at Tik Tok cafe in Williamstown with my local group of mates, at Brett Robinson’s house, napping in bed, or lounging on the couch in front of the TV.
Describe yourself in three words?
Really, really annoying.