Wanda’s team of beach runners are standing on top of the world after scoring a clean sweep of all the two-kilometre beach events at the 2018 Lifesaving World Championships in Adelaide.
Ali Najem and Melissa Campbell emphatically won the open 2km beach titles to ensure Wanda took all the gold in the 2km run and 2km relay events with Wanda winning eight gold medals from as many events.
Super mum Campbell regained her world champion crown at age 42 with a dominant win, having won the previous world title in the Netherlands in 2016.
After finishing second at the previous three world titles and despite much hype about the top Kenyan in the race, Australian champion Najem dominated his race from start to finish and exploded in the last 500 metres to decimate the field and win his world crown.
It took Najem six years to finally win his crown. Then in the space of 24 hours he had won two world titles.
“He promised me despite trying to make it on a world stage in marathon running he’d keep coming back to the lifesaving world titles until he’d won it,” Wanda coach Jock Campbell said.
“I’m so happy for not just Ali and Mel but for an entire squad that delivered with their racing in Adelaide.”
Junior Chloe Gentle came from fifth to storm into second place in the open women’s race. Lachie Crawford did the same and placed third in the open men’s event.
The Wanda 2km team had earlier dominated the youth world titles with outstanding 15-year-old Jessie Phelps beating a number of Australian champions to win as one of the youngest in the field.
Jess then backed up with 2016 youth world champion Gentle to win the 2x1km relay.
In the youth men’s event, Australian champion Kai Hammond was the star winning a super tough race which came down to a sprint from behind at the finish to win his world title.
Hammond then backed up with Zak Keelan to take out the youth male 2km relay in a close battle.
In the women’s relay, Gentle broke the lead pack apart with 200m to go on the first leg and gave Campbell a 30m lead into the final leg. From there nobody was going to catch the super mum.
To round off the clean sweep, Najem then teamed up with youth champ Hammond to win the men's relay after a close battle with a powerful South African team.
Najem said after the race it was the icing on the cake to win state, Australian and world titles in the same year.
“To see our team do so well and do it with my running family was huge,” he said.
“This is my second family. I owe everything to Jock, Wanda and surf lifesaving. I was on a bad path as a youngster and Jock introduced me to lifesaving and racing.
“Me, just a kid from Bexley. Bexley now has a surf lifesaving world champ.”
Coach Campbell said he got asked when he left the Australian cricket team as the strength and conditioning coach what he would miss the most. He said it was the camaraderie that came from being part of a close team.
“This beach team is my team now and this carnival has been equal to the feeling of Ashes series wins and the World Cup win in 2003,” Campbell said.
“To see Mel and Ali’s names up with the likes of Ali Day and New Zealand great Olivia Eaton as open individual event winners is pretty special. For our event we don’t have a pro series, our main events are Australian titles and every second year the world titles, so that’s what we aim for.
“Races aren’t won just on the day. The big races are won through the consistent and relentless training sessions and lead-in races over many months and years.”
“Someone like Ali sets his entire life around training and competing, even to the extent of finding a job that allows him the time to train and prepare as well as any professional athlete I’ve ever worked with.
“We also had Kai skip national athletics champs next week and Sydney Swans Academy training to focus on preparing for this event and three gold medals was his reward.
“Jessie Phelps forgo rep waterpolo and Zak Keelan the same with hockey to focus on this event. All of our athletes had their personal battles to get here at their physical and mental best, as all athletes do.
“I’m so pumped that they got through them and delivered when it really mattered. To see how emotional our runners were after their victories with both Ali and team manager Don Hammond shedding tears of joy showed how much hard work and dedication went into this success.
“And what even made it more special was to have our club legend Greg Allum present the medals to our relay winners on the final day and club patron Solly Stevens present the medals to our open winners. Those two have been our biggest supporters from Wanda and that was a great initiative by ILS.”