PERSONAL best times, three Oceania Track Championship medals and a coveted selfie with an Olympian – Eliza Bennett could hardly have imagined a better debut at under 19s level.
The Bathurst 15-year-old admitted to feeling tentative about last week’s titles, but from the moment she finished her first race at the Adelaide Super-Drome the nervous smile was replaced by one of happiness.
She was an Oceania champion by the end of the first night of competition – claiming gold in the team sprint – then went on to earn silver in the 500 metres time trial and sprint events. She also was a solid fourth in the kierin.
“I was not even sure of how I was going to go, I was stepping up and it was very early in the season as well. I had no idea of how my form was, but obviously it was not too bad,” Bennett said.
“I was super surprised with my times, I got PBs in all the events I did. Like I said it was really early in the season, so to do that was a bit crazy.”
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Bennett worked hard in the lead up to the event with her coach Marian Renshaw and it showed from the get go. Alongside Heather May, the talented Bathurst teen secured team sprint gold with a dominant performance.
Their winning time of 35.954 seconds was 1.18 quicker than the effort of Kiwi pairing Olivia King and Tyla Green. It was a performance which filled Bennett with confidence.
It also helped her learn about May, who she battled throughout the championships.
In the 500m time trial Bennett clocked a personal best in being the second fastest qualifier to behind May and while lowering her mark further to 36.835 in the decider, was nudged out by 0.26 seconds by May.
In the sprint event Bennett won her qualifier – going 0.08 quicker than May – and won her semi-final against Green. In the decider May got the nod.
“I was pretty nervous to start with because I wasn’t sure how it was going to go and also when you have a partner, you don’t want to mess up for them. I was worried, but once I got out there and rode it made me feel a lot better for the rest of the comp,” Bennett said.
“It was kind of cool that I got to ride with her [May] and see how she was going. I was able to work on my tactics by seeing how she rode in our team event, I used that for my sprints and the kierin against her.”
As well as learning from her time on the boards, Bennett said watching Australia’s male and female track stars in action was an education as well.
“I watched Matt Glaetzer who is an Olympian, so watching him was pretty cool and Kaarle McCulloch – every race my coach would be saying I had to watch them ride and learn from it,” she said.
“I picked up tactics from them and things I need to work on just from watching them racing.”
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As for the best moment of the championship, Bennett nominated a surprise winner. It was not standing on the top tier of the podium, nor was it a personal best. It was having her picture taken with Glaetzer.
“That was a serious highlight, it was better than the gold medal, I was so happy,” she laughed.
Bennett will now attend country carnivals as she works towards the state and track national titles.