02 DEC 2008 General News Sydney, Australia

Its not quite cricket! Australia vs England set for the streets of Newcastle

USA's Lauryn Williams (far right) wins the 2008 Great North Sprints on the quayside in Newcastle (NOVA)USA's Lauryn Williams (far right) wins the 2008 Great North Sprints on the quayside in Newcastle (NOVA) © Copyright

Australia will compete against England in an athletics match annually from next September through to at least the 2012 London Olympics in an event described yesterday in cricket terms as a cross between Twenty-20 and the Ashes.
 
“There has always been a strong rivalry between England and Australia in athletics and all other sports,'' Australia's Olympic pole vault gold medallist Steve Hooker said.
 
"The whole concept is fantastic, the country v country format doesn’t happen that often in athletics and to have this in the lead up to London 2012 is great news.”
 
In fact Athletics Australia in partnership with Nova promotions boss, England's Montreal Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist Brendan Foster, described the competition as the first between the two nations. 
 
This promotion is a valuable opportunity for young Australian athletes to compete in front of a large crowd, albeit that Foster will be taking the meet to the street in Newcastle - The Great North ‘City Games’ with the team scores to be listed on a giant screen hung across the river Tyne.
 
There will be limited events given the track will be confined to four lanes stretched over a 200m straight, but the opportunity is there to take a crack at one of the oldest unofficial world bests, Mexico Olympic champion Tommie Smith's straight 200m time of 19.5sec set in May 1966 on a clay track in San Jose.
 
The Australian record is believed to be the 20.7 run by Mexico silver medallist Peter Norman at Hensley Field in 1969 when he attempted to beat 20.1 by Sydney's Trinidad-born Mike Agostini in Bakersfield in 1956 which remains the Commonwealth record on the straight.
 
Other events on the programme will include the sprint hurdles, High Jump, Shot Put as well as a street mile and 3km race, for which Australia's Craig Mottram has run the fastest of 7min 42sec.
 
"I am always up for a challenge and this is really different. I like the idea especially to compete in a different environment with the fans so close," Olympic 100m Hurdles silver medallist McLellan said.

"Next season I want to work more on keeping up my racing form after the main championship for the year, so this meet being right at the end will give me even more experience at doing that.”

Athletics Australia President Rob Fildes promised: "We will be 100 per cent behind it and will send our best athletes."
 
The match follows a successful joint promotion between Nova and AA of last Sunday's inaugural Great Australian Run, a 15km road race in Melbourne, after the style of the Great North Run in the Newcastle area staged by Foster's company. The match will be conducted on 19 September, he day before next year's massive road run.
 
One of the reasons road racing has proved successful is that it takes the sport to the people, rather than hiding the greatest athletes inside a stadium. This promotion recalls the Pole Vault exhibitions in Sydney's CBD during the 1970s and road races down George St featuring Mary Decker and Zola Budd.
 
Sadly those innovative starts were not built upon. Perhaps the England-Australia match will help spark renewed interest in athletics in Australia.

Mike Hurst for the IAAF