Track-star weeds scientist has winning formula

Photo of track-star Dr Roberto Busi crossing the finish line

Dr Roberto Busi crosses the finish line victorious in the Perth 2016 World Masters Athletics Championships’ 5000-metre event.

PHOTO: Nigel Beverly, Base Imagery

One of Australia’s latest gold-medal-winning, record-breaking champions of track and field has never been a full-time athlete – he has been too busy grappling with Australia’s herbicide-resistance weeds challenge. In fact, Dr Roberto Busi, from the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI), only took up running 13 years ago as a way to “de-stress” while undertaking his PhD.

In doing so he discovered a remarkable prowess and has risen to the top in international masters competition. In two events at the Perth 2016 World Masters Athletics Championships he beat a field of elite international athletes – many of them former professionals. Dr Busi’s time of 30.58 minutes in the 10,000-metre race was more than two minutes faster than his nearest rival in the 40 to 44-year-old age-group event.

His winning time of 14.46 minutes for the 5000m event was more than a minute faster than the second-place getter, the reigning European champion from Spain, Santiago De La Fuente Martin.

These achievements capped one of Dr Busi’s most successful years – in his running career and his scientific work. In 2016, Dr Busi had more research published than ever before – including a better understanding of the factors and dynamics of herbicide resistance selection. 

Rather than being a distraction from his day job at the GRDC-funded AHRI, where Dr Busi works to combat herbicide resistance in weeds such as ryegrass and wild radish, he says running has enhanced his work.

Photo of Dr Roberto Busi in the laboratory

Dr Roberto Busi in the laboratory.


“Sometimes, when I go for a run I just want to relax but sometimes I do think about work. It’s not like magic – that you go for a run and have a great idea or solve a problem – but it can happen,” he says.

For Dr Busi, athletics and academia have always gone hand-in-hand. It was as a university student in his native Turin, Italy, that he first got involved in sport, and after taking up cycling he noticed an improvement in his marks.

He discovered his talent for running after switching from cycling when his increasingly busy schedule demanded an activity that needed less time and preparation.

Since moving to Australia in 2005 and to AHRI at the University of Western Australia, Dr Busi’s talent has continued to develop and he has become a role-model competitor in many events. He is a past open-division 10,000m state champion and has won the Perth Marathon four times.

His career choice has flexible hours, allowing him to pursue both running and research, which he says provide equally important but different types of satisfaction and have some similarities: “My job is challenging and there is a lot of competition, but if you work hard you succeed – and the same applies to running,” he says. 

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