Setting the benchmark: Weston's record run

AS NSW Athletics’ official handicapper, Phil Weston admits his work can be contentious at times.

But as the longest serving handicapper in the history of Australian professional running, Weston has long been at ease with the criticism his role can occasionally bring.

“I have a philosophy that I’ve used since the day I started,” Weston said. “If someone wins a race and I come home afterward and lose sleep over the result, I won’t be handicapping the next day. That hasn’t happened yet.

“I’ve copped some flak over the years but I must be thick skinned I suppose. The runners are never going to think the handicap you’ve given them is enough, they’re always going to want a bit more which is only natural.”

Handicapping, the process whereby runners are assessed on their personal best time and form before being given a mark, has long been associated with pro running events such as this Saturday’s Queanbeyan Gift.

The system is designed to level the playing field with slower runners given a head start, theoretically allowing athletes of varying ability to race against each other with an equal chance of victory.

That’s where Weston comes into the equation. As the NSW Athletics’ handicapper, it’s his job to set each runner’s mark in what can be a hugely consequential decision for the athlete in question.  

“We start with a runner’s PB and then work off that,” Weston said. “Often though you just need to look at a runner to be able to say, ‘this bloke’s going to be good’. I get it wrong a few times but not too often.”

It’s a system that’s part science, part art as runners do their best to ‘beat the handicapper’ in the lead up to major meets in an attempt and receive the greatest possible advantage.

Weston has handicapped every Queanbeyan Gift since it was reborn in 2000. His history with the event goes back all the way to 1973 when he finished fourth as a competitor in Queanbeyan’s marquee running race.

And despite having now spent more than four decades involved in the sport, first as a runner and then as a handicapper, Weston said he had no plans to step away from his all-important role any time soon.

“If I didn’t enjoy the work, I wouldn’t still be doing it,” he said. “I like watching the rugby league and I don’t mind a bit of cricket but running is what I am passionate about.”

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