Contemplating an athletics meeting can be like standing before a smorgasbord. It all looks grand, but what is going to prove best when all those visual delights start landing on the taste buds?
Melbourne’s IAAF World Challenge meeting is just such a smorgasbord. It is also the precursor of 14 other World Challenge meetings over the next six months on all five continents – from Albert Park to Zagreb in an A to Z of our sport, with Rieti at the end like a chocolate on the hotel pillowslip.
The prospect of world indoor 60m hurdles champion Nia Ali running against silver medallist Sally Pearson tantalised, but unfortunately fell through. But there is still Pearson against the clock over the full 100m hurdles, just as it was two years ago when Ali actually was in Australia for competitions in Perth and Sydney but was well beaten.
Given good conditions, the question is: can Pearson go close to her meeting, and Australian all-comers, record of 12.49?
Pearson is one of two reigning Olympic champions – New Zealand’s shot putter supreme Valerie Adams the other – who will be competing in Melbourne. Adams, LaShawn Merritt, David Oliver and Eunice Sum are three world champions from Moscow last year; Mercy Cherono, Pearson and Kim Mickle minor medallists.
Adams (yet again) and Natasha Hastings are reigning world indoor gold medallists, Pearson and emerging New Zealand shot putter Tom Walsh brought silver and bronze, respectively, back with them.
Adams and Walsh – now there’s a tempting thought: could Kiwi fruit be the taste sensation of the meal?
Or maybe it will be the women’s 800m, where Sum faces a formidable field led by 18-year-old Georgia Wassall who chased the world champion home in Sydney last weekend.
Maybe the 800m will not even be the best women’s middle-distance event. Cherono drops down in distance to 1500m in Melbourne to take on Moscow finalist Zoe Buckman.
Or might Moscow silver medallist Kim Mickle take the limelight with a national record in the javelin? Or Dani Samuels in the discus?
Oliver had a close battle with Australians Nick Hough and Sam Baines for the first six flights of the 110m hurdles in Sydney last weekend. Merritt faces an old stager in John Steffensen in the 400m. Duane Solomon could lead his local competitors to fast times in the 800m. It’s Collis Birmingham v James Magut in the 1500m, Ben St Lawrence v Isiah Koech in the 5000m.
Fill your plate and let’s get started.
Breen v Pearson headlines sprints
This year’s head-to-head between Melissa Breen and Sally Pearson over 100m stands at 1-1. Breen set a national record in winning the ACT title in Canberra; Pearson reversed that loss in Sydney last weekend. Someone will break the deadlock when they meet for a third time on Saturday night.
Experienced Jamaican sprinter Mario Forsythe has been added to the men’s 100m and 200m sprints. Forsythe has twice broken 10 seconds in the straight sprint, but his only race this year is a 47.20 400m. He may need to move smartly to handle Tim Leathart, who ran 10.29 in Sydney last week and has a best of 10.24.
The 400m should be a LaShawn Merritt show, but Steffensen’s first outing over the distance since the heats of the London 2012 4x400m intrigues.
Sopot 4x400m relay gold medallist Hastings will contest the 200m with the emerging Ella Nelson.
Sum, Cherono head strong women’s middle-distance line-ups
Sum won convincingly in Sydney, but not with enough leeway to indicate she can take it easy in the 800m against Wassall, Moscow representative Kelly Hetherington, Brittany McGowan and Katherine Katsenavakis.
The women’s 1500m is loaded with talent. Cherono’s 4:02.31 personal best makes her fastest in the field, but not by that much over Susan Kuijken of the Netherlands, Zoe Buckman, Kaila McKnight and New Zealand’s Luch Van Dalen.
Collis Birmingham ran James Magut close over the mile in Perth a month ago. After finishing 10th in the 3000m at the World Indoor Championships, the versatile Birmingham chooses the 1500m here for another crack at the Kenyan runner. New Zealand’s Hamish Carson and Ireland’s Paul Robinson will also be in the mix.
Duane Solomon led Alex Rowe to the fastest Australian 800m time of the season in Sydney and the race looks a cracker again with Joshua Ralph, Jeff Riseley and Jared West also in the line-up.
Adams, Mickle and Samuels lead the field
Valerie Adams has not lost in more than 40 meetings, including two World Championships, an Olympics, and two World Indoor Championships. That is unlikely to change, but the interest will be in how far she can throw.
Her compatriot, Tom Walsh, was one of the surprises of Sopot, producing a 21.26m Oceania record to take the bronze medal. He threw an New Zealand outdoor record in Melbourne at December’s Zatopek meeting and should win again here.
After a 66.12m in Adelaide a month ago, Kim Mickle was up-front about her goal of breaking Louise Currey’s Australian javelin record of 66.80m in Melbourne and, on form, she will get plenty of competitive stimulus from Moscow fifth-place finisher Kathryn Mitchell (66.10m in Adelaide) and Kelsey-Lee Roberts.
That leaves Samuels, who was back to near her Berlin 2009 best in throwing 65.18m in Sydney last weekend. She would love to establish consistency at that sort of level, something that has defied her since her Berlin triumph.
The jumps do not hold the same sort of promise as other events, but pay attention to the performance of world youth champion Eleanor Patterson in the women’s high jump and former world indoor champion Fabrice Lapierre in the men’s long jump.
Len Johnson for the IAAF