There have been tears aplenty for Sally Pearson over the past two years.
Tears of pain and anguish when she badly fractured her wrist in a fall at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome two years ago. Tears of frustration when successive hamstring and achilles tendon injuries ended her campaign to defend her Olympic 100m hurdles title in Rio last year.
But there were tears of joy at Sydney Olympic Park on Sunday (2) as Pearson crowned a successful comeback at the Australian Championships. Better yet, she achieved a World Championships qualifying time in winning her heat in 12.74 seconds (1.6m/s) which made up for a slight strong tailwind of 2.3m/s invalidating her 12.54 in the final some 90 minutes later.
In more normal times, Pearson might have been a touch chagrined at such a turn of fate. But this time, after such a long road back, she could not have cared less.
Actually, it was hard to say because for several minutes Pearson could not find any words. Having hugged ground announcer Tamsyn Lewis Manou, she was overcome with emotion. Twice she made a start to answering the first question, twice she fell silent, struggling to maintain her composure.
When Pearson was able to speak, words came in a torrent. Mostly words thanking her support group, her friend – “you know who you are” – and the fans.
With Sydney in the grip of an unseasonal cold spell for the four days of the senior championships, the sprints were moved to the back-straight to avoid the strong headwinds. Bad for the paying spectator, perhaps, but there were no complaints when Pearson became the main beneficiary.
Twenty in first selection tranche for London
Pearson also secured a place on the team for the IAAF World Championships London 2017, one of 16 athletes named after the first phase of the Australian selection process. Race walkers Dane Bird-Smith, Rhydian Cowley, Regan Lamble and Beki Smith have already been named in the 20km.
Fabrice Lapierre and Patrick Tiernan are both qualified through performances in IAAF competitions. Lapierre was the Diamond Race winner in the long jump last year while Tiernan’s top-15 finish at last weekend’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017 counts as a qualifying mark for the 10,000m.
Earning automatic selection as Australian champions who have also achieved the standard were Kurtis Marschall in the pole vault, shot putter Damien Birkinhead, javelin thrower Hamish Peacock and decathlete Cedric Dubler.
Besides Pearson, sprinters Ella Nelson (200m) and Morgan Mitchell (400m), 400m hurdler Lauren Wells, discus thrower Dani Stevens (nee Samuels) and javelin thrower Kelsey-Lee Roberts were also named. Completing the first phase were Eloise Wellings (10,000m), Nina Kennedy (pole vault), Olympic 50km race walk silver medallist Jared Tallent and fellow 50km race walker Chris Erickson.
New Zealand and Papua New Guinea pinch sprint titles
Joseph Millar and Toea Wisil won sprint doubles. Though she represents Papua New Guinea, Wisil is eligible to win the titles as she is an Australia-registered athlete.
New Zealander Millar, who won his own national title in 10.18, produced a solid 10.25 to defeat Trae Williams (10.29) in the men’s 100m and took the 200m in 21.09 (-3.1m/s), a metre to the good of Alex Hartman.
Wisil won the 100m over Melissa Breen, 11.42 to 11.64, then caused a boilover by defeating Olympic semi-finalist Ella Nelson in the 200m, 23.76 to 23.91 (-2.4m/s). Wisil’s start gave her an early advantage and she held that up the straight as Nelson struggled into the wind.
Another Olympic semi-finalist, Morgan Mitchell, won the 400m in 52.08 while Steve Solomon, who is determined to make a return to the city in which he made the Olympic final, won the men’s in 46.66.
Stevens and Peacock star in throwing events
Dani Stevens scarcely needed another national title to attract attention; 10 years of performances at or near the top of women’s discus has earned her that distinction. But in the cold and windy conditions of the final day she won her 16th throws title with a distance of 65.07m.
Stevens has been in fine domestic form going into Sunday’s competition, twice throwing beyond 66 metres so far this far. But the win was especially meritorious in much the worst of a fairly ordinary day.
“It was challenging with the wind and the rain,” said the 2009 world champion. “I made a big effort to refocus with each throw. This weather is possible in London so I wanted to make sure I’m ready for it.”
It was not much better when Peacock competed in the javelin. After a disappointing performance in Rio, the Tasmanian has returned to top form. He had three throws beyond the World Championships qualifier of 83m with a best of 84.36m, just three centimetres shy of his personal best.
Olympic shot put finalist Damien Birkinhead ensured he would be in London later in the year, winning with a put of 19.80m.
On the Saturday night, Kelsey-Lee Roberts made up for a series of recent near misses when she won the women’s javelin with 61.40m, exactly equal to the World Championships qualifier.
Gregson stands out in middle distances
The middle-distances turned into largely tactical affairs.
Olympic finalist Ryan Gregson produced a 53-second final lap to take the men’s 1500m in 3:52.86 from Matthew Ramsden, while Lora Storey controlled the women’s 800m to win in 2:03.56 from Anneliese Rubie and Georgia Griffith. Heidi See won the women’s 1500m in 4:23.99 from Zoe Buckman and Linden Hall who took off shortly before the bell but could not hold off the first two.
The best, and relatively the quickest, race came in the men’s 800m where home-town favourite Joshua Ralph looked to have won when he headed defending champion Luke Mathews in the straight. Somehow Mathews found the spirit to push back through on the inside and thrust his chest to the line in first place, 1:46.71 to 1:46.76.
Marschall clinches final, but fails at new PB
Kurtis Marschall was another to experience the worst of the conditions on the final day, winning the pole vault when he was the only competitor clear at 5.45m. He had the bar put up to 5.75m, which would have been a personal best, but failed to clear the height.
New Zealand’s Olympic bronze medallist Eliza McCartney cleared 4.50m to win the women’s pole vault on Saturday night.
Cedric Dubler completed a back-to-back double in the men’s decathlon on the first two days of the senior competition, finishing with 7779. While he fell short of last year’s performance of 8114, Dubler’s score was the 13th best ever by an Australian.
“I’m looking for a top-eight performance in London, and I know it’s definitely there within my reach,” he said. “If I’m able to nail each of my events individually, it’s certainly possible.”
Len Johnson for the IAAF