• By Jock Serong, a novelist and freelance journalist who writes in the surfing, travel and literary media. He was the founding editor of Great Ocean Quarterly and is senior writer at Surfing World magazine. His most recent novel is Preservation, based on the true story of the Sydney Cove shipwreck.

As the sporting world re-shapes itself in response to delayed events and changed conditions for training and competing, we take a look at two ACCIONA employees who’ll be grinding out the miles, all winter, in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Distance running is a gruelling discipline, mentally and physically, but Jonny Gusman and Steve Knuckey wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jonny Gusman is very particular to point out that he’s not just twenty-one. He’s twenty-one and a half. It’s not the last time in our interview that he’ll very carefully recite numbers. Distance runners are obsessed with numbers, he says. “We’re quite precise.”

Jonny came down from Coffs Harbor a year ago – well, a year and two months ago – to live in Melbourne with his brother Jordan, who’s an Australian champion 5000-metre runner with an Adidas sponsorship. “I did it for the career,” says Jonny. “I went from being the best runner in Coffs, to Melbourne to train with a coach who’s coached people to the Olympics.”

So from big fish in a little pond to little fish in a big pond? Jonny doesn’t hesitate:

“Hopefully I’ll be a big fish in a big pond.” He laughs, then adds, “It’s a chance to live with a high-level athlete – and hey, he’s my brother…”

That coach he mentioned is Elizabeth Matthews, whose son Luke is the Olympian. Jonny likes training with them because the group has a family feel to it. “I run a little with my brother too,” he says. “He gives me advice. But he trains in Colorado half the year.”

Jonny’s still at an age and stage where he’s deciding which event is his future. “I came to Melbourne as an 800-metre runner, but I haven’t raced a single eight-hundred here. I’ve mainly run 1500 metres, and moving forward I’ll be good at the 5000. I have friends who do marathons, so I guess to them what I do is middle-distance. Although to a non-runner, it’d be considered distance running.”

He makes the point that runners need to be almost world-class in the events above and below their chosen one in order to be elite over their own distance. For Jonny, that means mastering the 1500 and 10,000.

“For shorter events like the 100, 200 and 400, it’s all about speed. You’ve got to be really quick. But as you go up, you’ve got to have that endurance base. I’ve got that, but not their speed base, even though I’m quick for a 5000 runner. If I can get it all together, I’m going to be a threat to anybody in the world.”

“If I can get it all together, I’m going to be a threat to anybody in the world.”

Jonny’s improvement, over the year he’s been down south, is startling. His PB for the 1500 has come down from 4:19 to 3:57, and for the 5000, from 17:20 to 14:52. That’s two and a half minutes he’s shaved off his time – in just a year – and it’s got him confident. “Moving forward, I don’t see why I can’t be one of the best in the world over the 5000 metres.”

ACCIONA came into the picture almost by accident: when he first moved south, Jonny was studying design at Swinburne, just near his Hawthorn home. When he moved on from studying, his St Kevin’s Running Club friendships saw him offered a spot doing a garden makeover at the ACCIONA offices. That led to a job in the yard at the workshop, doing “a bit of everything.”

“Fingers crossed, in a couple of years I’ll be a full-time professional athlete. For the time being, I do whatever’s asked of me and try to make my dreams happen.”

“Fingers crossed, in a couple of years I’ll be a full-time professional athlete. For the time being, I do whatever’s asked of me and try to make my dreams happen.”

In the U.S., the college system ensures that there are opportunities for young athletes to build professional careers. Here, it’s harder. Two of Jonny’s training partners have sponsorships: Luke with Under Armor, his brother Jordan with Adidas. Yet his third partner, Sam McEntee, who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics, has no sponsor. “It’s tough to make a living,” Jonny concludes. “You’ve just got to be passionate about it.”

Olympic selection, for Jonny, might take one of two paths: he’s half-Australian, and half- Maltese on his dad’s side. Running for Malta is a real possibility. “My brother never got a cent from Athletics Victoria, and he’s lined up for Malta and they’re supporting him really well. And behind my brother, I’d be the second-best distance runner in Malta, so the odds of national selection are better.”

Jonny’s paternal grandfather, the Maltese side, passed away earlier this year, and it saddens Jonny that he never got to see both boys qualify to run for Malta. It’s some consolation that just before he died, Jordan did run in the national colours, at the Games of the Small States of Europe championships, and won gold.

The training season finished about six weeks ago, and was unfortunately marred by the COVID restrictions. Jonny hasn’t seen his coach in about a month. “I’ll occasionally run past someone from my training group, just because we use the same places. However, we do sometimes meet up with just one other person but never any more because we don’t want to be stupid and/or break the law.”

Training distances can vary from 90 kilometres a week up to a peak of around 140 kilometres. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are the harder days: repetitions at high intensity with short recoveries. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are for an “easy jog” (don’t be fooled), and Sunday is a for a long run. Jonny recently competed on a Saturday and had – by his own estimation – a “shocker”, then went out on the Sunday and ran 21 kilometres in 72 minutes. He was taking out his anger. And he was flying.

“It’s pretty crazy, when I think about it. I talk to people at work about it and they think I’m a bloody lunatic. To be an elite runner, you need to be a bit crazy.”


Steve Knuckey’s love of the eight-hundred is a love that many of us would find hard to understand. The training is constant, and it’s brutal. Injuries are common. And the better you do it, the more it hurts: Steve throws up after nearly every race. So why – oh why – would you do all this to yourself?

Steve’s a business development assistant with ACCIONA, a position he’s held for two years now. It started while he was finishing his uni studies, and he’s found the job so enjoyable, and so well-suited to his lifestyle, that he just kept going. In his first year he helped out with the Echuca-Moama Bridge tender at the bid office in Southbank, and since then he’s been in the Port Melbourne office working on the tender for the pumped hydro project in Adelaide.

Living in Prahran, it’s tempting to think Steve might take the opportunity to rack up a few miles by running to and from work. He laughs at the idea: “I take the lazy option and drive the car!” But when you hear about his training regimen, it’s pretty clear why.

Steve trains with an elite 800-metre group coached by the renowned Justin Rinaldi, who also coached Alex Rowe and Joseph Deng, the current Australian 800-metre record holder. “There are two other guys who are my training partners,” says Steve. “We all specialise over 800 metres, and we push each other all the time.”

The training venues change seasonally, “here, there and everywhere.” Australia doesn’t have indoor tracks, as the European countries do. Steve does sessions every week on grass or gravel, for example round the Tan or Princes Park, and then in the warmer months, during competition season, he’s on synthetic aths tracks. And that’s rain, hail or heatwave.

“I started as a distance runner when I was younger,” says Steve, who’s now 25 and just approaching that reputed peak for runners around 28. “But as I’ve developed as an athlete, I’ve found speed and power. I’ve definitely fallen in love with the eight-hundred, but it’s a shocking event, how painful it is. I don’t handle lactic acid well – I tend to be sick after every race.”

“I’ve definitely fallen in love with the eight- hundred, but it’s a shocking event, how painful it is.”

It’s clear from listening to Steve that the eight-hundred is not just a blind, agonising sprint either. It’s an acute mental game. “You can’t fall asleep in the event,” he says. “There’s always something going on. If you’re inattentive for even a second, you’re off the pace. Especially in the last 150-200 metres, the sudden desperation.”

“I think people see this event as speed work, and not as distance. But that’s not entirely right,” he says. Internationally, there are runners looking to run the first lap of an eight- hundred in fifty seconds, according to Steve. “And that’s quick. Especially in the Diamond League Circuit in Europe, they’re going very fast. But in championship racing, that’s where tactics come into it. So I guess everyone works to their strengths.”

With a PB over the distance of 1.47:23, Steve has a fair chance of making Olympic selection, especially now the Games have been pushed back. “It’s on the radar,’ he says, carefully. “And after that there’s the 2022 World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. If I can get another Australian tracksuit (he ran for Australia as a student), I’ll be happy.”

During to the COVID restrictions, Steve and his training group haven’t been able to meet up. “It’s put a bit of a spin on things,” he says, “especially with Olympics and even the European/American season being cancelled: this is usually the time I look to compete overseas. Thankfully my coach has been able to establish a new program that’s specific for each of us. I’ve trained on my own previously, the year I made my first Australian team, so going back to those roots has been really good to ensure accountability, but also control my own training and not having outside influence to push too hard.”

Steve’s been fortunate with injuries, which for eight-hundred runners can include everything from shin problems through to hamstrings at one end and feet at the other. “We don’t keep running through pain,” he says. “We tend to be pretty careful to manage our injuries, even though we do run through the pain of the lactic acid barrier.”

Working with ACCIONA has meant the world to Steve, because he can keep training while he’s building a career. “I’ve got to thank everyone here,” he says. “Last year was so full-on – I was doing my thesis and training and working, and everyone was fantastic. They allowed me to be flexible. I’d never want to feel I’m abusing that. I haven’t needed to change anything in my athletic career to work here.”

When Steve’s at work, he’s totally focused on what he’s doing, but when he pulls the running shoes on, it’s like flicking a switch. “Everything comes naturally to me now. For harder work I’m focused on technique, or race simulation. Keeping strong, remembering the basics. But if I’m on a long run, I drift away mentally. I just start the watch and let the legs keep going. I think of where I want to get to…I remember why I do this. Because one day I want to represent Australia.

“I just start the watch and let the legs keep going. I think of where I want to get to…I remember why I do this. Because one day I want to represent Australia.”

“There’s dark times – some athletes would say there’s more dark than light – but I like to appreciate where I am.”


There are all sorts of digital apps that can help you find your way into running, from Map My Run to The Couch to 5K Trainer, Alltrails and Runkeeper. One way to stay active and connected is to open a STRAVA account.

STRAVA is the social network for athletes. Record an activity and it goes to your STRAVA feed, where your friends and followers can share their own races and workouts, give kudos to great performances and leave comments on each other's activities.

ACCIONA and Surfing Australia have created a club within STRAVA, open to all employees to share their activities and encourage health and wellbeing.

All you need to do is sign up via the app or website (it’s easier via the app) and then join the ACCIONA X SURFING AUSTRALIA club.

And a word of advice from Steve Knuckey for those of us battling to get out there: “People tend, when they do go out for a run, to go hell-for-leather. Then they get down on themselves. Be smart – if you haven’t run in months, you can’t expect to be gung-ho. Work your way into it: you’ll enjoy it more. Just start slow.”