Australian sprint hurdler Sally Pearson (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Townsville, Australia

Top Australian and New Zealand stars head to Oceania Championships

When the renowned economist John Maynard Keynes was once asked to justify a change in his view on some issue, he reputedly replied: “When the facts change, sir, I change my opinion. What do you do?”

The facts around area championships as a means of qualifying for global championships have changed – dramatically so in the case of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Like good Keynesians, Australia and New Zealand have changed their minds about the Oceania Championships, to be held in Townsville on 25-28 June.

For the most part, the two major powers in the region have looked on the Oceania Championships as a development event, leaving the way open for the some of the smallest member federations to shine. Area championships have provided a potential route into the World Championships for a little time now and, under the new IAAF world rankings system, will carry extra points.

That being the case, the Australian and New Zealand teams in Townsville will feature many of the brightest stars from the two strongest nations in the area.

Sally Pearson is down to run the 100m hurdles for Australia and Dani Stevens to make her season’s debut in the discus. World U20 decathlon champion Ashley Moloney, who surpassed 8000 points on his senior debut in Gotzis last month, joins Olympic finalist Cedric Dubler in the men’s decathlon. Olympic 20km race walk bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith will contest the 10,000m race walk, part of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge, and 2018 Diamond League champion Brandon Starc is in the high jump field.

Neither Tom Walsh nor Nick Willis is competing for New Zealand, but among the top names in the squad are Eddie Osei-Nketia, who won the Australian senior 100m title at the age of 17 this year in 10.22 (after a 10.19 semifinal), world and Olympic shot put finalist Jacko Gill, who has returned from injury to throw 20.76m this year, and 2015 World University Games 800m champion and sub-two-minute performer Angela Petty.

Realistically, it will be a surprise if Australian and New Zealand athletes do not take out the majority of the titles, but among those who will be most competitive against them are defending dual sprint champions Jeremy Dodson of Samoa and Toea Wisil of Papua New Guinea.

Dodson, who represented the USA in the 200m at the 2011 World Championships before running for Samoa at the 2015 World Championships and Rio 2016 Olympics, completed the sprint double at the Oceania Championships in Suva two years ago, as did Wisil.

Some of the strongest events at the championships include:

10,000m race walks: Bird-Smith, Katie Hayward and Jemima Montag were all among the initial Australian selections for Doha. Declan Tingay, fourth at the World U20 Championships last year, and Olympic and World Championship representative Rhydian Cowley will round out a strong Australian men’s trio. The race walking events are also part of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge.

10,000m women: Sinead Diver and Ellie Pashley have both made great strides in the marathon recently, but the two Australians fall either side of the World Championships qualifier at 10,000m. Pashley has achieved it, Diver missed by just one second at the 2018 Zatopek 10,000. The two, along with teammate Emily Bricachek, will make an assault on the 31:50 target time in Townsville.

Decathlon: Cedric Dubler (8185) and Ashley Moloney (8038) were just short of the 8200 World Championships standard in Gotzis last month. They will have another crack at it here in a head-to-head competition for bragging rights in their training group.

Long jump women: Brooke Stratton and Naa Anang are both jumping regularly in the 6.70s this year and have already had a number of close battles. Stratton holds the Australian record at 7.05m. Townsville’s warm weather could see both of them pushing further towards that mark.

Shot put men: Perhaps the best of the throwing events, in prospect, anyway. Gill has returned from injury this year and his season’s best 20.76m is closing in on his outright 21.01m PB. Birkinhead has not gone beyond 20 metres yet in 2019, but the contest for the gold medal might see him back to his best. Defending champion Mustafa Fall of Fiji should be in the mix for a minor medal.

800m women: This shapes as one of the championships’ most competitive events with the Australian trio of Catriona Bisset, Georgia Griffith and Morgan Mitchell up against New Zealanders Angela Petty, Katherine Camp and Katrina Anderson. Bisset won the Australian title and broke two minutes at the National University Games the following week and starts as favourite in a tight field.

100m hurdles: combined-eventer Celeste Mucci is entered in this event only, so must fancy the prospect of competing against world champion Sally Pearson to drag her along to the 12.98 World Championships qualifying standard. Shen ran 13.02 in the Gotzis heptathlon. The third Australian, Brianna Beahan, and New Zealand’s Fiona Morrison add to a strong field but they should all be chasing Pearson, whose season’s best so far is 12.70, set at the Osaka IAAF World Challenge meeting.

The Oceania Championships commence on Tuesday (25) and conclude on Friday (28).

The championships can be watched on live stream either via the Oceania Athletics Association Facebook page or on their YouTube channel

Len Johnson for the IAAF