Sprinters Jessica Thornton and Trae Williams put themselves in line to double at the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016 later this year in winning two events at the Australian U20 Championships in Perth.
Williams won the 200m on the championships’ final day, adding to his win in the 100m at the previous night’s Perth Track Classic. His winning time of 21.37 into a -1.4m/s headwind was just outside the World U20 Championships qualifying time, but as he had twice previously achieved that mark, his win made him a guaranteed selection in the event.
It capped off a great weekend for the young Queensland sprinter. On the Saturday night, with the 100m being one of the U20 events incorporated into the Perth Track Classic program, Williams showed he has every right to be in the big time by breaking Matt Shirvington’s national U20 record.
His 10.27 took 0.02 off the mark set by Shirvington back in 1997 in Sydney. He ran 10.03 at the IAAF World Cup in Johannesburg the following year, which remains the second-fastest time ever by an Australian male 100m runner.
Whatever happens in Poland later this year, Williams seems destined to enjoy a better experience than Shirvington did. His only World U20 team saw him sit the meeting out as an unused relay squad member in Sydney in 1996.
Shirvington’s subsequent experiences show how quickly things can turn around for young athletes. Williams also demonstrates this: at the end of 2014 he was third behind Jack Hale and Rohan Browning in the Australian Schools race in which Hale clocked a sensational wind-assisted 10.13.
On Saturday night in Perth, Williams edged out Hale, 10.27 to 10.31. That was Hale’s fastest legal time and he is likely to join Williams in running the individual sprint in Bydgoszcz.
Thornton won the women’s 200m in a meeting record of 23.47, adding to her win in the 400m earlier in the championships in 53.04. She also broke the record with 23.50 in the heats. Adding merit to her performance, the previous 200m record-holder was Ella Nelson, who has improved this year to 22.53. The pair train together in Sydney.
Thornton, who does not turn 18 until 12 April, has a 400m personal best of 52.50, set when winning at the 2014 youth Olympics in Nanjing.
Like Williams, Thornton will be an automatic selection for Bydgoszcz in both the 200m and 400m, with the timetable allowing each to run both events.
Ramsden also qualifies to double
Local boy Matthew Ramsden joined the sprint pair in earning the right to compete in two events in Poland.
Ramsden won the 5000m on the opening night of the championships and then came back to win the 1500m. Tall and rangy, with personal bests of 3:46.23 and 14:01.89, Ramsden is one of the best male middle-distance prospects to come out of Western Australia since Herb Elliott. It would be unfair to saddle him with such heavy expectations, but his progress so far has been impressive, including a win over Australia’s best juniors in the U20 3000m at last year’s Zatopek meeting.
Twenty-two others joined the three double winners in qualifying for Bydgoszcz directly from the championships, while a 23rd, middle-distance runner Lauren Ryan, had already won the women’s 3000m trial which was conducted earlier. Ryan could yet join Williams, Thornton and Ramsden in doubling as she finished second to Amy Harding-Delooze in the 1500m and has the qualifying time in the shorter event.
Of the 23 additional automatic selections, 10 are in field events and 13 more on the track. Two of the strong field event contenders will be pole vaulters Kurtis Marschall and Nina Kennedy. Marschall won both the U20 title and the Perth Track Classic event at 5.50m and had close attempts at 5.61m. It would not take too much improvement to see him among the medal contenders later in the year.
Kennedy set a then world U20 outdoor best of 4.59m last year and qualified for the team with a 4.30m clearance in Perth. Fifth at the 2013 World Youth Championships, she will be contesting her second World U20 Championships after finishing fourth in Eugene two years ago.
Another to qualify on the final day was 800m runner Sarah Billings who won one of the most competitive events of the championships in 2:07.23, from Amy Harding-Delooze (2:07.27), her twin sister Lily (2:07.36) and Georgia Hansen (2:07.60).
The final team size is expected to be between 60 and 70 athletes, depending on relay squads. The announcement of the team is expected late this week or early next, with combined eventers to be added after their trials are conducted at the Open National Championships in Sydney from 31 March to 3 April.
Len Johnson for the IAAF