He may have been a touch slower, but David Rudisha, the World Athlete of the Year, was still supreme at this year’s Melbourne Track Classic, the opening leg of the 2011 IAAF World Challenge series of one-day meetings.
Just as he did last year – a year which brought him two World records – Rudisha was in sub one minute 44 second territory in his first race over 800 metres. Last year his 1:43.15 was the fastest time ever run in Australia. This year his 1:43.88 was merely the second-fastest.
As expected, the middle-distances provided the highlights of this first meeting of the IAAF World Challenge for 2011. The 5000 metres was expected to be the race of the night, and it lived up to its billing when Bernard Lagat won in 13:08.43, the fastest run at Olympic Park.
It was also the last 5000 which will be run at the venue which saw World records from the great Ron Clarke 40 years ago. There will be two more meeting here, the Victorian championships on the weekend and the national championships next month.
Both the state and national titles at 5000m have already been run, however, so Lagat’s will remain the track record for ever. Truly, the best was saved for last.
The third highlight event – the men’s 1500m – provided the night’s boilover as Jeff Riseley sprinted past Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop up the final straight to record his third win at the Melbourne meeting in a row and fourth in five starts.
Lagat had said that he was wary of a “home opponent” in the 5000 metres. If he had not been, then Kiprop’s defeat would have sounded an alarm bell.
There were also two world class Shot Put performances. Reigning World and Olympic champion Valerie Adams produced 20.13 metres to win the women’s event while Osaka 2007 World champion Reese Hoffa was again over the 21-metre line in taking the men’s competition with a best of 21.10.
Rudisha targets championship gold
It was a cool, but thankfully still, Melbourne night. A touch cooler than David Rudisha would have liked, perhaps, but he still looked superb as he glided through the first 400 just behind pacemaker Sammy Tangui’s 50.29. At this pace, there was only one winner and Rudisha held his pace through the second lap to win by 10 metres in 1:43.88.
Rudisha stuck to his line that championship gold is what he is after.
“The World championships, that is my aim this year,” he said. He will run another 800 in Sydney on 19 March.
Nick Symmonds was second in 1:45.09 and Australian champion Lachlan Renshaw third in 1:45.66, a personal best. In fifth place, Alex Rowe improved to 1:46.24, close to the Australian U20 record of 1:45.91 held by 1994 world junior champion Paul Byrne.
Lagat was expecting a challenge in the 5000, but he may have been a little surprised at the challenger. It was not Chris Solinsky, not Matt Tegenkamp, not Craig Mottram, not Isaac Songok.
It was Ben St Lawrence who got onto the 2007 World champion’s shoulder on the final bend, briefly raising hopes of another boilover. Lagat motored away up the straight, though, winning in 13:08.43.
St Lawrence’s 13:10.08 took him past Collis Birmingham into second place on the Australian all-time list.
“I was expecting quite a good race, but to be up there and challenging, I’ll take that.”
The race was for the Australian title, giving St Lawrence his third distance crown in succession having won the 5000m last year and the 10,000m at the Zatopek meeting in December. He also secured automatic selection for the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea (27 Aug to 4 Sep 2011) with his win.
It was Lagat’s first win in Australia in three races and 11 years. The other two were pretty good, mind you, an Olympic bronze in the Sydney 2000 1500 metres and second to Hicham El Guerrouj at Olympic Park in the 2001 IAAF Grand Prix Final.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” said Lagat. “I’ve never run this fast in March.”
Solinsky was third in 13:10.22, Tegenkamp fourth in 13:16.27 and Andrew Bumbalough fifth in 13:16.77 - all achieving their aim of a World Championships qualifier.
“I don’t think any of us travelled 22 hours to come down here and not get the standard,” said Tegenkamp.
Mottram was sixth in 13:25.15, his fastest since 2008. He said he was happy with his run after battling achilles injuries for two years.
In the men’s 1500m, Riseley burst past Kiprop in the final 60 metres after the Olympic champion looked the winner. He ran 3:36.71 to Kiprop’s 3:37.63.
“I took him by surprise a bit, I think” said Riseley.
Jemma Simpson atoned for missing her race in earthquake-hit Christchurch by winning the women’s 1500m in 4:08.49 ahead of Kaila McKnight’s 4:08.94. Kenia Sinclair beat local favourite Tamsyn Lewis in the 800m, running 1:59.63 to 2:01.50.
Sally Pearson completed her third sprint double in three Australian Athletics Tour meetings with an 11.53 in the 100 and 23.36 in the 200, beating Mikele Barber into second place both times.
Steve Solomon, who does not turn 18 until May, came home strongly to defeat Sean Wroe in the 400 metres, 46.12 to 46.23.
As well as the aforementioned world class marks of shot putters Adams and Hoffa, there was a third World champion competing in the 'throws' in Melbourne. 2009 Dani Samuels, had her best result of the domestic season with a 61.00 metres in the women’s Discus Throw. She had one other throw beyond the 60-mark.
Berlin 2009 bronze medallist Mitch Watt won the men’s Long Jump with a best of 7.98 metres. Watt said he was feeling no pain from the groin injury which put him out of 2010 after the World Indoor Championships. He did not have surgery, but rehabilitated the injury.
Henry Frayne was again near 17 metres, winning the men’s Triple Jump with 16.91m.
Len Johnson for the IAAF
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