Thriving in a Flourishing Environment

The VIS is the home to a crop of exceptionally talented middle-distance runners; Abbey Caldwell, Catriona Bisset and Linden Hall. We caught up with Caldwell ahead of the upcoming World Championships to learn more about her progression onto the world stage and how the relationship with her Australian teammates has helped her thrive.

Australia’s team for this month’s 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest is arguably stronger and deeper than the country has ever sent to the event.

Athletics Australia’s Head of High Performance, Andrew Faichney, believes; “it’s as strong as we have had for a very long period of time, if not ever.”

Linden Hall, Catriona Bisset and rising star Abbey Caldwell – all of whom are in record breaking form and will be searching for a place on the podium.

VIS stalwart Linden Hall bettered the national 1500m record by 0.02 last month in Poland, crossing the line in 3:57.27. She is one of only two women in Australian history to have run under four minutes for the 1500m and will be expecting to finish towards the front in Budapest.

Catriona Bisset is the Australian record holder over 800m, with her recent best performance of 1:57.78, achieved late last month in London. Bisset has normalised running under two-minutes in the event, achieving the feat on 22 occasions to raise the standard for Australian women.

Abbey Caldwell will become just the second Australian woman to complete the 800m/1500m middle-distance double at a World Championships. She has consistently set PBs in 2023 with 1:58.48 over 800m and 4:20.51 in the mile, and became Australia's fastest ever female over 1000m, taking the win at the Citius Meeting in Bern, Switzerland in 2:34.63 to clinch her first national open record.

It’s clear that when one athlete sets the bar even higher it’s an exciting height for the rest to reach, and the talented trio are all clearly thriving in this flourishing environment.

“When one rises, we all rise. We have such a great camaraderie and I think we’ve all benefitted from that. We are all each other’s biggest supporters and seeing how healthy the relationship is between Linden and Jess (Hull), has only inspired me to want more for one another,” said Caldwell.

The VIS has been an integral part of Caldwell's recent growth as an athlete both on and off the track and we spoke to the new kid on the block ahead of her World Championships debut;

Being a proud Victorian, how did you feel when you were awarded your VIS scholarship?

“As a born and raised Victorian, receiving a VIS scholarship meant a lot to me. After spending most my life competing at local clubs, competitions and events around Victoria, there’s a huge sense of pride receiving the scholarship and being surrounded by so many other inspiring athletes from across the state.”

How is the VIS currently supporting you on and off the track?

“From the team within the (VIS) walls who support all my medical needs and keep me 100% healthy, to the team who comes out to support my training in the rain, hail or shine at all hours of the day, the VIS are like the backbone of my athletic endeavours. I couldn’t feel anymore supported than I do and can trust the team with every goal I wish to achieve.” 

What are some of the specific things you’ve been working on with our experts that have helped you to improve?

“After being awarded a scholarship to the VIS in June 2021, a big gap in my training that we wanted to fill was in strength and conditioning. Cory (Innes) couldn’t have made this an easier journey if he tried! Like any form of training, it takes patience and trust, but he made this process feel like a breeze. Openly communicating all areas of work we would approach, Cory helped me develop my strength in the gym enormously and very quickly I feel I’ve developed into different athlete and am so much more confident in approaching my training. It’s now a paramount part of my training and can thank Cory hugely for bridging the gap in my strength.” 

More specifically, VIS Physical Preparation Coach Cory Innes has been conducting isometric testing with Caldwell to look at different qualities needed to enhance her running gait and her ability to train with a reduced risk of injury.

“To understand this, we look at how she creates, redirects, or stabilises force in different positions and based on the results, we will design a specific targeted program to help have her in peak shape prior to the World Championships,” explained Innes.

“Her ability to stabilise and redirect force quickly is the most important right now and because of her improvement in these tests and her improvements in her calf strength we are able to choose some more advanced exercises for her,” said Innes.

Image: Cory Innes conducting isometric testing with Abbey Caldwell. 

You stamped your presence on the Australian middle-distance scene at Nationals in 2021, and on the International scene at the Commonwealth Games in 2022, how are you coping with being in the spotlight and with the additional pressure?

“Honestly, I have never felt like there’s been one turning point that’s put me in the spotlight. Yes, there’s certainly been breakthrough races that have maybe put my name further out there, but it feels as though it’s been a progressive journey with my coach and team. I think that with those standout races and maybe the times there’s some extra pressure I try my best to take it one step at a time. I’ve learnt to embrace the emotions and soak them in whether good or bad before shifting the focus to what’s next. I’ve had lessons that have taught me that you can’t control everything and that plays a big part on taking the pressure off spotlight moments.” 

Paris 2024 is on the horizon - what’s on your schedule between now and then?

“The biggest event on the horizon for me prior to Paris is the World Champs in Budapest this year. That’s certainly the peak of the 2023 calendar for me but at the same time, the European season leading into worlds is also about preparing long term for Paris. Ultimately once 2023 is over, the Australian domestic season will be an exciting schedule at the front end of 2024 where ultimately, it’ll be all about getting race practice. From there, the European season will kick off again from April onwards and I’ll be doing the best I can to put myself in a strong position for the Olympic team and be confident that I can go into the Games as a contender."

Caldwell's trajectory in the sport as devised by her coach Gavin Burren and team, has been described as “a linear progression of performance since a young junior, which has allowed me to tap into new capabilities each year.”

She is naturally talented, physically robust and with a mindset to match and we are excited to see what the future holds for the young star on the rise.

Follow all the action from the Budapest World Championships live and free on SBS or on beIN Sports.

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