Ryan Gregson towards winning the 1500m in Hobart (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Gregson the Stand-Out in Hobart

distance events were showcased in this year’s Graeme Briggs Classic, and Ryan Gregson provided the highlight of the middle-distances with a slashing run in the 1500 metres.

The meeting in Hobart also saw the return to competition of Beijing javelin sixth placegetter Jarrod Bannister, competing for the first time since wrecking his elbow mid-way through the Olympic final.
There were also impressive 5000 metres victories by Collis Birmingham and Eloise Wellings, but it was the dominating victory by Gregson which caught the eye.

Gregson is still some 10 weeks short of his 20th birthday, but he runs with the tactical aplomb of a veteran. He made his intentions plain from the start, tucking into second place through a sub-57 second first lap. When the pacemaker was done after only 500 metres, Gregson assumed the lead, going through the 800 mark in just under 1:57.

Mitch Kealey then took over, but by the bell it was Gregson back in charge. Stretching his advantage through every stage of the final lap, he crossed the line in 3:37.35. That may have been a scant 0.11 slower than the personal best he ran in Sydney last year, but a measure of his progress since then he was given a perfect carry behind world champion  Yusuf Saad Kamel and Birmingham, whereas this time he was the dominant runner in the race.

Following a 1:47.06 ‘pb’ 800 six days earlier, this performance confirmed Gregson is in a rare vein of form. He confirmed that his experience in Europe last year, when he was a late addition to the World Championships team, had “opened me up to a new level.”

Gregson has shown great ability of 800, 1500 and 3000 metres, but he nominated the 1500 as his favourite, citing the great Australian tradition pioneered by John Landy and Herb Elliott. He wants to emulate those great milers, too.

“One day I want to be the best in the world,” he said. “This is a good start.”

Kealey was second in 3:39.83 with Brenton Rowe third in 3:40.95.

Birmingham, Wellings confirm Zatopek form

Collis Birmingham also has ambitions at 1500 metres this season, which makes a future meeting with Gregson a tantalising prospect. But right now, he is setting his own standards at a range of distances. Having won the Zatopek 10,000 metres in December and the 12km world cross-country trial in January, he marked his February calendar with a meeting record in the 5000 metres.

As Birmingham has won the Hobart 5000 on three previous occasions, his 13:24.62 meeting record held added significance. He pulled away from Ben St Lawrence, Michael Shelley, national cross-country champion Clint Perrett and emerging youngster Duer Yoa with impressive ease over the last five laps.

“I’m pretty happy, it’s the fastest I’ve run here, so it shows I’m a little bit fitter than last year,” Birmingham said. Amongst his shorter-term targets is a top-20 finish at the World Cross-Country Championships in Bydgoszcz.

Unlike Birmingham, Eloise Wellings backed off a little after her win in the women’s Zatopek. But she was back with a vengeance in Hobart, pulling away in the last five laps to win the women’s 5000 in 15:35.37 from Benita Willis and Lara Tamsett.

Bannister and Price stand out in the field

Bannister’s return was the obvious highlight of the Hobart field events, the Olympic sixth-placegetter having his first competition since Beijing.

He has had two operations to his right elbow since and also had surgery to repair wear-and-tear damage to both ankles. His performance was modest enough - a winning distance of 76.25 metres with a back-up 75.47 - but the fact that he was there, and emerged unscathed, was more than sufficient this night.

Bannister said he was feeling in good physical shape, and working hard on the technical aspects of his throwing with his coach, former East German great Uwe Hohn.

Most impressive performance in the jumps on an increasingly cold and difficult night for the explosive events came from Petrina Price in the women’s high jump. The former world youth and world junior minor medallist cleared 1.90 metres to win the event, before having a close attempt at an equal personal best 1.93.

Slew of World Junior qualifiers

And, with an eye to the future, the meeting produced no fewer than eight qualifying performances for this year’s World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada. These came from Kane Grimster, Jordan Williamsz and Brett Robinson in the 1500 metres, Alex Rowe in the 800, Sasha Alexeenko in the 400 Hurdles, Amy Petkovic in the High Jump, Matt Turk in the 200 and Kevin Batt in the 5000.

Len Johnson for the IAAF