Joshua Ross wins the men's 100m - 2004 Australian Champs (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Sydney, Australia

Australian Championships - PREVIEW

While Europe is focused on this weekend’s climax of the indoor season in Madrid, ‘down under’ Australia’s thoughts are fully directed towards the European summer and the 10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics.

This weekend’s Telstra A-Championships at Sydney Olympic Park (4-6 March) offer Australia’s elite the possibility not of just winning national titles but also of selection for this summer’s World Championships.

Ross - financially on the blocks, focusing on title defence

Indigenous Olympic sprinter Joshua Ross has well and truly done his dash Down Under.

In the insular and obscure world of “professional” athletics in Australia where sprinters are allocated handicaps and compete for “gifts”, the talented are tormented. Winning the Australian national 100m title and Athens Olympic team selection last year has all but terminated Ross's hopes of ever winning another big purse in the ``pros.''

He has been handicapped out of the bush league of countryside carnivals because he is just too fast, too good. In years past he could always go back to Stawell and chase a payday like the one he stole in 2003 as an unknown - a `smokey' in the pro's parlance.

Now though there is nothing else for it but to defend his title in the Telstra Australian Athletics Championships which will be staged over three days starting on Friday at Sydney Olympic Park.

And get faster, of course.

“I'm sick of 10.1 [seconds] already. Ten-oh is the next step and that would put me up there with the rest of the world,” Ross, 24, said yesterday.

A year ago he finished third in the Telstra A-series in Perth behind the likes of Matt Shirvington and Adam Basil.

“I thought, damn, they're fast. And I thought I was quick,” Ross recalled. “I ran it like a pro race. But instead of working through the field [off a handicap], I was in front from the start and I thought, what do I do now? I've learned.”

He opened his season in the pro carnivals as usual, but started so far behind the front markers he had no show of winning.

Then he joined the main game again in Perth and ran a personal best 10.12, his first A-qualifying time for the World Championships in Helsinki in August.

Daniel Batman ran second in 10.19 then but has beaten Ross since then, winning the 200m as well in the Melbourne Track Classic.

They should fight out the 100m title on Saturday evening.

“It's been the greatest year of my life, so far at least,'' Ross enthused. “I've been on a wave of success and happiness. It's only the beginning. I think I'm back in 10.12 shape. Given the right conditions I'm capable of winning it [the 100m title] again, but at this stage times are irrelevant to me.”

Of course Patrick Johnson, the national record holder with 9.93, may have a say in the 100m as well as 200m on Sunday afternoon.

It was Johnson's barrier-breaking sub-10 in May 2003 which inspired fellow indigenous champion Ross to move into the “amateur” ranks.

World class New Zealanders the motivation for local talent

Success in athletics is said to be 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration.

The newest member of pole vaulting's six-metre club, Perth's Paul "Budgie'' Burgess, was inspired by former training partner Dmitri Markov who won the 2001 world championship with a leap of 6.05m.

And Canberra-based Queenslander Tim Parravicini, who has long jumped 8.18m this summer, was inspired by his former training partner, Jai Taurima, the Sydney 2000 silver medallist.

But there has been no role model in women's throwing to inspire Dani Samuels, 16, a Sydney schoolgirl who is the top-ranked shot putter in Australia.

It's been nearly 20 years since Shot Put record holder Gael Martin retired, and Discus record holder Daniela Costian retired after the Sydney Games.

“I can't say I have a local hero as such,” said Samuels, who has a best put of 15.50m and best discus throw of 55m - both in medal contention at the IAAF World Youth Championships at Marrakesh, Morocco, from July 13-17.

“I suppose my coaches [Denis and Hayden Knowles] are my inspiration and my motivation. Training is always so enjoyable and so different,” Samuels said.

Her perspiration then may be rewarded. If she wins the shot put title, she will be the youngest in more than 50 years since Val Lawrence, who was 15 when she won in 1952 and went on to become a 1956 Olympian.

Perhaps she can find inspiration from two visiting New Zealanders, current shot put outdoor world leader Valerie Vili (formerly Adams) and Beatrice Faumuina, the discus throw gold medallist at the 1997 IAAF World Championships.

Both have entered to compete in the neighbouring Australian Championships meet, although the national title can only be claimed by an Australian citizen.

“It would be fantastic to compete against those two girls,” Samuels said.

The expected highlight

Of course the highlight of the Australian Championships - literally and figuratively - is expected to be the men's Pole Vault.

Athens Olympic finalist Paul Burgess became only the 13th man (11th outdoors) to clear 6.00m last weekend in his home city of Perth and he is up against Adelaide-based Markov, who has bettered 5.75m this summer as did Melbourne's Steve Hooker who beat them both to win at the Melbourne Grand Prix II meet last month.

On the IAAF Scoring Tables of Athletics Markov's 6.05m leap is worth 1261 points. That is credited as the best performance by an Aussie. Then comes Cathy Freeman's Atlanta Olympic 400m silver medal run in 48.63 (1249) followed by Patrick Johnson's 9.93 100m (1247).

Burgess (1244) is fourth best, which means his clash with top-ranked Markov is a rare matchup at the highest level with the tempting thought that another 6m leap is in the making - the first in the Olympic City of Sydney.

5000 metres and Race Walks to savour

Olympic finalist Craig Mottram, who ran 5000m in 12:55.76 last year to rank fifth best Australian on the IAAF Scoring Tables, will defend his national title on Saturday.

Mottram's training partner, the world cross-country champion Benita Willis- Johnson, is expected to dominate the national 5000m title race which will also be run on Saturday.

Athens Olympic bronze medallists Nathan Deakes and Jane Saville - who are the seventh and equal ninth ranked Australians on the IAAF Tables - will compete in the Australian 20km road walk titles early on Sunday morning, with Deakes in superb shape.

Mike Hurst (Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Australia) and IAAF