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Mitchell Watt improves to 8.44m in Melbourne (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 17 April 2011 – Melbourne, Australia

Watt leaps 8.44m, Pearson scores triple victory as curtain falls on Melbourne’s Olympic Park

Melbourne, AustraliaMitchell Watt set a stadium record with the very last jump of the very last Long Jump competition. Sally Pearson completed a treble of women’s national titles for the first time in over 40 years. Tamsyn Lewis won the last race of the championships to give her a double and take her tally of national titles to 17.

Unavoidably, the final day (17) of the final Australian championships to be held at Olympic Park was a day of nostalgia and history. It ended with a “Last Lap of the Park’, with virtually the entire crowed – including Australia’s senior International Olympic Committee member, Kevan Gosper, Steve Hooker and Pam Ryan – walking a lap of the track.

But it was also a day for the future, personified in the form of 17-year-old Steve Solomon who ran his third major race in Melbourne for the season and had his biggest victory when he took the 400m in a massive personal best of 45.58.

“I love Melbourne, I love this track,” said Solomon, his love of the venue Melburnians call ‘the Park’ no less passionate than those whose memories go back to John Landy’s pursuit of the four-minute Mile.

And why wouldn’t he? Solomon, a Sydney schoolboy, won the U18 Australian schools’ title at a Melbourne suburban track last December in 46.44, then came to Olympic Park to win first at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in 46.12 and now the national title in 45.58.

“Three wins here, three PBs. I love it,” Solomon exulted.

Like many before him, Solomon’s performance at Olympic Park has led him to change his perspective. He had intended sitting out 2011 to focus on his final year of secondary schooling, but now, he conceded, he would have to seriously consider heading to Daegu with the Australian 4x400m Relay.

Reflecting on “an amazing three months”, Solomon said: “I'm so rapt with that time. Totally unexpected. I knew I had run well but to run 45.5 is unreal. I'd never dream of running that six months ago.

“I will have to revaluate a little bit. If I make world champs for the relay I'll definitely do it. It gives me a lot of encouragement to go into base training, get really strong and improve my flexibility and come out and run faster times.”

Solomon upstaged a man who had himself won the Australian title as a teenager. Ben Offereins, who finished second in 45.88, won the first of his two national titles as an 18-year-old in Sydney in 2005. John Steffensen was third in 46.41 and Sean Wroe fourth in 46.59. There was plenty of quality behind the young man from Sydney.

Last round 8.44m PB for Watt

Olympic Park is not historically known as a favourite venue for long jumpers. When it is good, however, as it was this last day, it is very good. Bronwyn Thompson set the Australian women’s record here in 2002. Two years before that, Peter Burge set the men’s stadium record at 8.30m.

It was that record Watt Broke with his final jump. The 2009 World championships and 2010 World indoor championships bronze medallist was good at the first and the last. He opened the competition with an 8.17m, which would have stood up for the win. But he closed it with an 8.44m, a personal best by one centimetre and a stadium record which will last forever.

Fittingly, Burge, who is now a conditioning coach with one of Melbourne’s professional Australian Rules football clubs, presented the medals.

Robbie Crowther, the 2006 World junior champion, was second with 8.05w and Fabrice Lapierre third with a best of 7.83m.

Watt was just five centimetres short of Sydney 2000 Olympic silver medallist Jai Taurima’s national record 8.49m. Words have been exchanged this week as Taurima reacted to comments Lapierre made about the record, but the winner put things neatly in perspective, saying he would love to get the record but wants Taurima’s Olympic medal even more.

“I’d take a silver medal over an Australian record any day,” said Watt. “I watch the video (of Sydney) often and it gets my heart racing.”

Watt said he wants a medal in Daegu, whatever he does in the meantime. “If I can get one big jump, that’s enough.”

Pearson completes treble, Lewis doubles

Pearson made light of a heavy day’s racing – heats and final of both the 200m and 100m Hurdles – to complete the first treble since Olympic hurdles medallist and former World record holder Pam Ryan in 1968.

The 24-year-old took the 200m in 23.20 (-1.4) and the sprint hurdles in 12.83 (-1.1). She was one very happy woman afterwards.

“I think the emotion’s been bubbling up,” she said. “It’s relief after a long season and the fact my body is in one piece.

“I’ve run 23 races since January, and it’s been great to train and compete at this level for that long.”

Lewis won the women’s 400m in 52.31 ahead of teenagers Caitlyn Sargent and Anneliese Rubie. It was her 17th title and 27th in all for her family (six for father, Greg Lewis at 100 and 200, and six for her mother, Carolyn Lewis (nee Wright) in the High Jump).

Lewis talked about accompanying her Dad to training at Olympic Park and then of seeing athletes such as 1988 Olympic 400m Hurdles champion Debbie Flintoff-King “train so hard” there.

“There’s been a plethora of superstars training and competing on this track. It’s just so great to win the last race here,” she said.

Risely and Buckman take 1500m titles

Jeff Riseley won his second men’s 1500m title in three years and atoned for last year’s narrow loss to the injured Ryan Gregson when he won the 1500 in 3:39.21.

Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Mark Fountain, returning from career-threatening groin injuries, burst to the lead with 300 metres to go, with Riseley, Jeremy Roff and Brenton Rowe on his heels.

Riseley proved the strongest, finishing exactly one second ahead of Roff, with Rowe taking third in 3:40.85.

University of Oregon graduate Zoe Buckman grabbed the lead at the bell in the women’s race and held it all the way round a closely-contested final lap to beat defending champion Kaila McKnight, 4:12.85 to 4:12.92, with Georgie Clarke third in 4:13.82.

Double for Rouge-Serret, Samuels takes Discus

Aaron Rouge-Serret completed a double in the men’s sprints, taking the 200 in 20.88 (-1.2), two metres ahead of Matt Davies. It was the first men’s sprint double since Josh Ross in 2007.

World champion Dani Samuels retained her discus title with a best of 61.79m and Olympic sixth placegetter Jarrod Bannister took out the Javelin Throw with a best of 80.17m.

Len Johnson for the IAAF

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