At 6 feet 2 inches, Mottram is unusually tall for a distance runner. He competed in his first Olympic Games at only 20 years of age, in the 5000-meter event at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. He went on to compete in the Athens Olympics in 2004.
In 2005, he set a course record to win the Great Ireland Run in a third consecutive win at the competition. On 14 August 2005, he reached a career highlight, coming third in the 5000 m event at the 2005 World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki, running the event in 13 minutes, 32.96 seconds. He is the only non-African born runner to receive a medal in that event since 1987.
On 9 March 2006 in Melbourne, in his final warmup event before the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Mottram took ten seconds off the 12-year-old Australian record for the 2000 metres. This distance, not often run at IAAF events, was scheduled specifically to suit Mottram’s Games preparation.
On 20 March 2006 at the Commonwealth Games, Mottram came second in the 5000m event with a time of 12 minutes, 58.19 seconds, beaten narrowly by Kenyan runner Augustine Choge. This race was only the second time that this event was won in under 13 minutes at a championship competition. Mottram also ran in the 1500 m event in Melbourne on 25 March 2006, entering the competition as favourite to win. Having worked his way into third position during the race, Mottram was accidentally tripped at the 800 metre mark when English athlete Andrew Baddeley fell behind him, clipping Mottram’s heel. Mottram lost 20 metres on the field due to the incident and finished in ninth position.
At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Mottram placed 5th in the first heat of the 5000 m in 13min 44.39sec and did not advance to the final.
In August 2012 Craig Mottram competed in the London Olympics 5000m for Australia. He was the fastest Australian at those Olympics, with a 13.40.