Close this search box.

Duncan’s diamond mile

Australian athlete Melissa Duncan has taken out her first international race. Simone McInnes talks to the Upwey runner about her successful, yet tumultuous, journey so far.

It isn’t often that an athlete has the opportunity to compete internationally outside of the major championships. It is even more rare that one has the chance to travel and race over one mile, a somewhat obscure and rare distance on the Australian competition calendar.

However, for 23-year-old Melissa Duncan, both of these feats have been achieved in the past week alone.

The Knox athlete has convincingly taken out the Hong Kong International Diamond Mile, following wins at the Victorian Mile Championships and the Bendigo Dragon Mile earlier this year.

“I’m really delighted to have won this race. Hong Kong is an amazing city and completely different to what I was expecting to find,” Duncan says.


The win caps off a solid track season for Duncan, with her racing schedule being strictly limited after struggling with numerous injuries, including three navicular stress fractures.

Like many runners, Duncan’s love for athletics started at the grass roots level of Little Athletics at the age of 12. After realising her talent through a number of school running events, she followed in her sister’s footsteps and began to compete with Knox.

“I enjoyed the simplicity of it and not taking it too seriously at the time,” she says.

“It wasn’t until a couple of years on when I joined Richard Huggins’ training group that I learnt to actually test myself and try to win races and run fast to get into state teams.”

Duncan is now training under the guidance of elite Melbourne based coach, Pam Turney, and is currently running on average, 100km per week.

“It is very special to be part of such a close, all girl running group,” Duncan says.

“Everyone always supports each other at fun runs and running events – and being the youngest in the group, I gain more knowledge and insight from more experienced runners with every training session.”

What is perhaps one of Duncan’s most admirable qualities is her drive and willingness to succeed, enduring more hiccups along the way than most athletes. At the age of 13, Duncan was diagnosed with bipartite patella, a condition where the kneecap does not fuse together during adolescence.

The problem presents itself to only around one percent of the population and although it’s usually not a substantial issue, it can become inflamed and cause pain. Duncan says that removing the second kneecap is an arduous process that would severely impact on her training and is not an option at this stage.

Like 15 per cent of Australians, Duncan also has to battle with gluten intolerance. While such an allergy is difficult to control under normal circumstances, it is even harder for an athlete who trains 6-7 days a week and is constantly traveling for running meets.

“It really hindered my training at that time because I was so fatigued and feeling sick for every session. I have to be so organised, especially when traveling, because gluten free food is not available everywhere.”

“I just came back from Hong Kong and I didn’t take anything over. I found I had to eat all sorts of weird food, which is not ideal preparation for a race.”

Others may have been put off by such things, but Duncan simply finds ways to manage these challenges.

“I just have to make sure I keep organised and on top of it all,” she says.

Duncan admits that athletics training and university takes up quite a lot of my time, yet insists she makes time for things outside of running.

“Art and music are my main hobbies. I have learnt that organisation is the key to balancing everything in my life. I write lots of lists of things that need to be done and try to be as efficient as possible,” she says.

Duncan has returned home and is focusing on the upcoming winter season. Although she is aiming to run at the Australian Cross Country Championships, her main goal is to build a base for next summer’s track season, where she will attempt to “make sure I get my personal best down a bit quicker”.

With a 1500m PB of 4:13.00 and a substantial number of credits to her name – including being a World Youth Championships representative, Youth Olympic Festival representative and national champion – there is little doubt Duncan has what it takes to go even further with her running career.

And while her list of achievement is impressive, Duncan struggles to single out a single one as her proudest accomplishment.

“Winning any race (makes me proud),” she says.

“Sometimes it doesn’t matter how important the race is, crossing the line first is a great feeling.”

Simone McInnes is a third year Sports Journalism/Psychology student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter: @McSimone.

Related Articles

Editor's Picks