Fastest man in the world; Joshua Dunkley-Smith
On 10 March, 2018 Joshua Dunkley-Smith sat down on the indoor rowing machine, set his monitor to 2000m, gripped the handle and pushed. Five minutes, 35.8 seconds later Dunkley-Smith had broken Rob Waddell’s 19-year-old record to become the fastest man in the world.
Waddell had set the pace at 5:38.3 in 1999 for the 19-29 year-old age group. This was the year before he went on to become Olympic Champion. Waddell then took a break from rowing and came back to the sport with the aim of competing at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. In the year of the Games, Waddell topped his own record with a 5:36.6 for the 30-39 year-old age group. Dunkley-Smith's new time topped this record, although Waddell still retains the age group record.
From Australia, Dunkley-Smith boasts an impressive career on the water, with two Olympic silver medals and a bucket full of World Championship medals. But the world was shocked when he seemingly nonchalantly broke Waddell’s record.
“It’s pretty amazing the length of time the previous record, Rob’s record, had stood for,” Dunkley-Smith says. “Obviously he (Waddell) was a pretty impressive athlete physiologically. You always see that when the category opens for the first time, records fall pretty fast and close together, but over time, as the record gets closer to the ultimate capacity of all athletes involved, it slows down.”
Dunkley-Smith attributes this year’s success to several factors, including his post-Olympic year which involved more weight training, power and sprint work. Weighing in at 102kg before the test, Dunkley-Smith says he was confident that he had been able to retain muscle mass from his training programme, despite having been back in high-volume training for a couple of months. But he did not go into the 2k test planning to break the record.
“No one ever knows that they are going to do it ahead of time,” he says. “My race plan, as usual, was just to flat-line.” This year’s test was an improvement from last year after a sports scientist advised Dunkley-Smith to add a burst at the start. “That was basically it, a couple hundred meters below split and then pretty much just on to it, then bring it home with whatever you have, keep the rate up a bit more.”
The news of the new record spread like wildfire throughout the rowing world. After such a long time many began to wonder if anyone would break Waddell’s best. And then, following a year away from national squad training, Dunkley-Smith managed to go 0.8 of a second faster.
“The 2km is the purest physiological test that there is for rowing. Over the years I’ve developed a lot of confidence in my ability to jump on and do them, so that plays a big part in the preparation. And even in going through the race, sticking to the plan and kind of pushing through those little bits of doubt that come up,” he says. But Dunkley-Smith is not convinced that his record will stay around for very long, citing that there are many young guys on the Australia team alone who are right on his heels.
As the final verification of the record was given, Dunkley-Smith came out with another surprise. He was stepping back from national team training and selection. In a statement made through Rowing Australia, he said, “"It is something that I have been considering for a while, as I've gotten older things have become more important to me, one of those things is spending time with family and with my partner Candice. We have many plans together for our future and I want us to spend time together and enjoy being a couple in our twenties before our future continues and things change again.”
While the rowing world’s heads were spinning, Dunkley-Smith says the timing was coincidental. “My coach at the time said that we had a 2km test, so I did the 2km test. I had previously made the decision to step away. But at the time I was still a member of the national squad and the team, so you just do what your coach says. You get on and do a 2km test.”
It just so happened that he broke one of the longest-standing records in the sport. “It is remarkable,” Dunkley-Smith admits. “To be able to categorically say that you are the fastest is an honour.”