Nick Willis, New Zealand’s 2008 Olympic Games silver medallist, got the better of Ryan Gregson and took the Australian’s meeting record in a thrilling 1500m at the Sydney Track Classic on Saturday night (9).
The Sydney Track Classic is part of the Australian Athletics Tour which concludes on April 6 with the Qantas Melbourne World Challenge, the first meeting in the 2013 IAAF World Challenge series.
The 1500m was the race of the night with this pair, plus a strong support cast headed by Collis Birmingham and Brett Robinson.
It was the Australians who did the work, with Birmingham sacrificing his own performance to some extent by ensuring the fast early pace was maintained through the middle of the race.
However, it was Willis who took the prize, his victory in 3:34.68 clipping just over half-a-second off the 3:35.42 meeting record Gregson set on his home track three years ago.
After a pacemaker led through 400m in 56.56 seconds, Birmingham showed his intent in taking over to pilot the field through 800m in 1:55.23. Gregson, Willis and James Kaan were close behind with 21-year-old Josh Wright, with a previous best of 3:41.68, also hanging on.
Gregson had taken the lead by the bell and pushed hard all the way through the last lap but he could not hold off Willis.
“First, I wanted to win,” said Willis, adding that he'd had several losing races in Australia over recent years. “It’s nice to be part of a tactical affair, win the race and get a fast time.”
Gregson, second with 3:35.25, was satisfied with his performance. “Three years ago, I ran 3:35.42 here and it set me up for a good year. Now, for the first time since 2009 I’ve been able to train through October, November and December.
“I’ve got a good preparation in and I’ve got a good feeling about this year.”
Kaan took third in a personal best 3:37.02 just ahead of the surprising Wright who slashed his previous best in running 3:37.10. Birmingham was fifth in 3:39.09.
Olympic and World champion Valerie Adams wanted a little more than her 20.02m winning effort in the Shot, but in her first outdoor meeting of the year, the New Zealander consistently peppered the 20-metre line with a series of 19.45m, 19.97m, 19.92m, 19.79m, 20.02m and a foul.
“I wanted more, but a win’s a win,” Adams said.
Adams also praised the IAAF for “doing all they can to keep the sport clean” in the wake of news that six athletes, including her erstwhile perennial rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk, had returned an adverse finding when samples from the Helsinki 2005 World Championships were re-tested recently.
“The message is that if you cheat you are going to get caught,” said Adams.
The only athlete Adams had lost to since Helsinki had been Ostapchuk and, taking the Belarus athlete out of the equation, her win streak zooms up to 94. Only greats Ed Moses (107), Parry O'Brien (116) and Iolanda Balas (150) can claim better records.
The throws provided most of the highlights of a meeting which sadly lost drawcards Sally Pearson and Mitchell Watt to injury.
Confident Samuels near her best
The 2009 World champion Dani Samuels had her best throw since 2010 and one of her best series ever in winning the women’s Discus.
All six of Samuels’s throws were over 60 metres. Her winning 64.46m – with another throw over 64 metres – was her best throw in three years.
Not surprisingly, Samuels was delighted. She put her renewed consistency down to some technical changes, greater variety in her training and a slightly more independent approach.
“I’m enjoying it a lot more,” she said. “My coach (Denis Knowles) has moved more into a mentor role and I’m a bit more independent.”
Samuels threw 63.97m in the qualifying round at last year’s London Olympic Games but was disappointed at not being able to reproduce that form in the final, where she finished 12th.
Samuels has since worked on her flight angle, among several technical changes she has made. “My goals are set looking forward,” she said. “I want to medal at the World Championships.”
Former IAAF World Youth Championships Javelin gold medallist Kim Mickle threw 62.53m on her last throw to again exceed the Moscow A-standard and take her specialist event.
The women’s 100m may have lost London 2012 Olympic Games 100m Hurdles champion Sally Pearson to a hamstring strain, but Melissa Breen, a late qualifier for Australian’s team for London last summer, ran a personal best 11.25 to win by five metres.
Breen then added another best in the 200m, winning that event in 23.12.
In the men’s 100m, London 4x100m Relay squad member Tim Leathart improved his PB to 10.24 (+2.0) in beating Joshua Ross and visiting US sprinter Calesio Newman.
Great Britain’s Steve Lewis, a week after finishing sixth at the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg, cleared 5.55m in the Pole Vault to claim the illustrious scalps of Steve Hooker and Brad Walker, who each cleared 5.40m on the third attempt.
Len Johnson for the IAAF