mai 24, 2024

Olympic Games Paris 2024: The special bond shared by running coach Ben St Lawrence and 800m champion Luke Boyes

5 min read

Ben St Lawrence chuckles while pondering the five years he’s spent coaching newly minted Australian running champion Luke Boyes.

« He’s gone from being one of the most frustrating people to coach because of his lack of commitment, to being one of my favourite athletes to coach because of his absolute, 100 per cent commitment, and also his consistency, patience and ability to execute on race day, » St Lawrence tells Wide World of Sports.

After winning the men’s 800m title at the Australian Track and Field Championships last Sunday, Boyes poured out his heart.

READ MORE: Red-hot Olympic gold medal shot sends ominous warning

The 20-year-old said his coach felt like an « adopted dad » and remarked: « If I’m 40 years old and I’m where he is, I will have lived a pretty good life ».

Boyes also said he had turned down US college offers to remain in the Blue Mountains and be coached by St Lawrence — a 10,000m runner at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, a former Australian record holder in the 25-lap race and a two-time winner of Sydney’s City to Surf.

Luke Boyes beating Peter Bol for the Australian men’s 800m title. (Casey Sims/Athletics Australia)

« He’s super inspirational, » Boyes said.

« Everything I want to achieve, he’s done.

« He forced me to go to training, and before I knew it I was hooked, and now here we are two years later.

« I’ve got to put everything on him.

« He understands that coaching is more than being a coach. »

Elated and emotional after last Sunday’s victory in Adelaide, the athlete and coach shared a beautiful embrace. From either side of a fence circulating the track, they leaned in and hugged. Smiling like a proud dad, the 42-year-old coach gave his champion athlete a pat on the back.

Boyes had just triumphed in an 800m race for the ages, edging Olympic finalist Peter Bol by 0.33 of a second at SA Athletics Stadium. The tall, slender, red-headed, athletically gifted youngster attacked the race with a glorious front-running performance. Bol was in a horrible position tactically with a lap remaining, but dug himself out of it and stole the lead on the home stretch. Boyes hit back, recapturing the lead and bursting over the finish line. He won his first senior Australian title and set a new championship record. He stopped the clock at 1:44.73, falling short of the Olympic qualification time by only 0.03 of a second.

« I think it will take a while to sink in, » Boyes said after the win.

Luke Boyes sharing an emotional embrace with Ben St Lawrence. (Natalie Wong/Beyond the Road)

St Lawrence was riding every moment from the other side of the track.

« As Bol went past him, I thought, ‘Just keep fighting, just keep fighting’, » the coach recalls.

« We’ve been working on … just having one last gear in that last 50 [metres], and Luke just fought back, and that is an incredibly hard thing to do when you’ve led the race to that point. »

Boyes linked up with St Lawrence as a 15-year-old, joining a popular Sydney running club called Run Crew. He was still playing football and cricket when he joined the group, but when COVID-19 exploded and his two main sports were wiped out, running took over. Boyes, St Lawrence and another keen runner called Ben Jagger were all locked down in the Blue Mountains. They laced up their shoes and hit the roads and trails.

« When Luke was an extremely talented 15-year-old who wasn’t doing the training I was setting him, I was thinking, ‘I would love to see what this kid could do if he actually followed the training I set him’, » St Lawrence recalls.

Ben St Lawrence holding off Liam Adams to win the 2018 City to Surf. (Jessica Hromas)

Boyes juggles his running commitments with a university degree in law and social and political science, which he admits is a « tough balance ».

Despite that, he’s whittled his 800m personal best down from 1:58.49 to 1:44.73 in the space of four years.

He’s set a new personal best on six occasions during this season alone.

« It’s pretty much been a dream season, » St Lawrence says.

For many Australian runners, the lure of the US college system is incredibly tempting. Jessica Hull, Genevieve Gregson, Olli Hoare, Morgan McDonald, Ky Robinson and many other brilliant Australian runners have headed to the US to study and run, and up-and-comers see that and give it a serious think.

« I just said, ‘Look, I’m happy to support you if you want to go to college, but I also want you to know that if you stay here I feel like we have the expertise and the community within Run Crew, » St Lawrence says.

« [I said to him], ‘I think we can do it training in the Blue Mountains and Sydney’, and we’re a step towards proving that’s possible now.

« I wouldn’t be surprised if people are trying to lure him back over there now, but I think he’s pretty set in his set-up at the moment.

« Obviously some sponsorship and support would be great. »

Luke Boyes leading the men’s 800m final at the Australian Track and Field Championships. (Sarah Reed/Getty Images)

St Lawrence says his relationship with Boyes is « pretty special ».

« Outside my wife it’s possibly Luke who I spend the most time with. I’m either running with him, riding the bike next to him or driving him in [to training in Sydney’s east].

« He’s a very smart guy. He’s like a sponge. You need to be careful with what you say to him because he’ll definitely remember it, and he’ll regurgitate it back to you months down the track.

« We talk through a lot about running and other areas of life.

« It’s been really helpful to try to stop Luke from making any of the same mistakes I made, but to also use some of the wisdom I gained over the years to help him.

« He’s a pleasure to coach. »

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