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Jordan Gusman: Champion of Leonora

Running reminds us of one simple thing: we are all human. At the end of the day, when everything is stripped away, we are all the same.

Nearly one year ago – defending his Golden Mile title – Jordan Gusman captured the heart of Leonora. He won the race in a triple extra-large singlet, given to him by the brother of Robert Seelander, a local man who had passed away only weeks before.
 
The singlet – designed in honour of Robert Seelander – had caught Gusman’s eye as he walked the main street. After commenting on its spectacular indigenous design, he got chatting to the man who wore it and listened to his story. As they parted ways for the night, they struck an agreement: he would race the final in that very same singlet.
 
Suddenly the race meant more than winning. As the Seelander family pressed themselves against the fence, Gusman felt no pressure, only purpose. A determination to pay respect in the best way he knew.
 
“There was no way I could lose that race,” he recalled.
 
As he crossed the line, he pointed. Victory was his, and emotion erupted. They cried and laughed and hugged. It was a great tribute to the man no longer with us, and a moment Gusman will never forget.
 
“The family high-fived and hugged me. I didn’t know them – aside from the small conversation I had the night before – and they didn’t know me. Yet it was enough for us to all shed a tear. It was a very special moment for all involved,” he said. “I do this sport for moments like this. Not to run fast, or prove I am better than someone else, but to better myself and bring happiness to the people around me.”
 
This story speaks to the legacy of the Leonora Golden Gift, where for one weekend athletes and community become one and the same. This atmosphere – created by local spirit – is something that Gusman cherishes every time he sets foot in the town.
 
“The main thing for me is just how different it is to any other race I have been a part of. This is evident from the moment you board the flight to Leonora,” he said. “You take a small rural plane packed with athletes, musicians, jockeys, and you land on a small asphalt strip surrounded by red dirt. When you land, there is no cellular data or wifi. This forces you to actually communicate with those around you, something which I think is very overlooked in track and field.”
 
According to Gusman, this unique camaraderie will be what brings him back to Leonora, not the $50,000 prize purse. He believes it is an experience not offered enough in the running world.
 
“You spend a whole weekend with these people, your competitors. You go to the store with them, watch the local horse races, eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. You become friends, and then at the end of the weekend you try to beat them,” he said.
 
“The event means more to me than just a race or the financial benefits that come with racing. I think it is a great way to connect with the local community. Seeing the smiles on all the children’s faces as they race down the main street, and knowing that I am a part of their joy and happiness in that very moment is enough for me to always want to come back.”
 
Ultimately, Gusman believes in giving back to the community that welcomes all runners with open arms.
 
“Over the past two years, I have made an effort to talk to as many people as I can. I made sure to get my race day lunch and coffee from the local cafe. I bought items from the stores that line the main street and listened to a number of stories about when and why people ended up living in the area. It means a lot.”
 
The Leonora Golden Mile has also kickstarted successful international campaigns for Gusman, most notably in 2017 when he ran a 1500m personal best of 3:37.97 in Spain, only two weeks after winning in Leonora. He believes the race is perfect for those looking to excel overseas.
 
“Most Australians have not raced since the national championships (in April), so it is the perfect hit out to snap yourself back into the racing mentality and to get that feeling back,” he said. “If you are good enough to be racing in Europe, you are good enough to place in the top five or six spots at Leonora, all of which receive prize money. It is an easy way to help fund your trip. It’s why I started coming [to Leonora].”
 
 
Having helped pay and pave the way for twenty Olympians and countless other athletes to pursue their dreams, the Leonora Golden Gift remains a pivotal race for Australian runners. For Gusman, it is unclear when he will return. After years of trying, he has booked himself a spot in the 2019 IAAF World Championships, running a time of 13:21.35 for 5000m. 
 
“For anyone who has followed my career, they would know it has been full of ups and downs. The downs, unfortunately, coming at the worst possible times,’ he said. “This year has been different. Almost everything has gone right.”
 
With his absence, Leonora will crown a new champion. The question is: who will it be?
 
Written by Jaryd Clifford

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