Usain Bolt came to Australia to win the first Nitro Athletics series. Bolt and his All-Stars did just that, sweeping the series 3-0 at the finale at Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne on Saturday (11).
Bolt has skin in the game, with equity in the innovative Nitro Athletics concept. More important than that, he had to put his reputation on the line and double up in the final meeting of the series to ensure his team got over the line.
With an enthusiastic and committed home team pushing for a win, Bolt had to pull out all the stops. After competing in the mixed 4x100m relay in the first two meetings, Bolt announced he would be doubling up on the final night to ensure victory.
Bolt ran – and won – the 150 metres – in 15.28 seconds, before coming back to lead the 4x100 to victory. That was enough to lift the Nitro trophy, presented to the winning captain by IAAF president Sebastian Coe, but it was a close thing throughout the night.
Australia led into the final event, but could finish no higher than fifth in the relay. The margin was just 12 points, the narrowest of the All-Stars’ three winning margins. Close, but not quite close enough.
All night the teams went back and forth, with each making a successful raid into the other’s strengths. Australia has dominated the middle-distance events, but Kenya’s Selah Busienei came back from losses to Linden Hall and Heidi See in the first two meetings to defeat Australian captain Genevieve Lacaze in the women’s elimination mile.
16-year-old Day surprises in women’s 150m
In an even more sensational response, Australia’s precocious young sprint talent Riley Day won the women’s 150m. Day, who does not turn 17 until 30 March, ran 17.63 seconds to defeat England’s experienced Margaret Adeoye and Jamaica’s 2015 World championships 100m finalist Natasha Morrison.
The unexpected victory put Australia right back in the hunt for an upset win.
“This is the greatest feeling ever,” said Day. “I tried to believe in myself, to have confidence and run my own race.”
It worked a treat.
For his part, Bolt said his 150 was “a bit rough,” but it was “alright. This is the first time I’ve run this early in the year – ever.”
The pair were interviewed by John Steffensen, who mistakenly thought they would meet again in the relay. Day said she was not running, then added in a cheeky afterthought: “He just got lucky.”
Solid early season infield performances
The field events again provided the highest level of performance. Team China’s Yaoguang Zhang looked to have the men’s long jump in his keeping after a 7.98m effort, only for Rio fourth placegetter Jarrion Lawson to claim the win for the All-Stars with an 8.02m final jump.
And Hamish Peacock was over the 80m line for the second time in the series, following up his win on Thursday night with another in 81.12m. To add icing to the cake, Peacock’s final throw was within the target sector for 15 valuable bonus points in the team scoring.
Topping off the high-class performances in the field, China’s Shiying Liu threw 63.07m in defeating All-Star Kara Winger, winner on the first night, and Australia’s Kathryn Mitchell in the javelin. And Xiaoxue Zhou took the women’s long jump at 6.44m.
China’s Changrui Xue got out of trouble in the pole vault with a last-ditch clearance at 5.50m after passing at 5.00m, and missing at 5.20m and 5.40m. Competitors are allowed only four jumps, one at each of the first three set heights, then one of their own choosing. It was a strong event for China with Chaoqun Li taking the women’s at 4.10m.
Australia matched the All-Stars in taking out their power play event, which carried double points. The Australians won the 3-minute challenge through Heidi See and Jeff Riseley, but the All-Stars neutralised their advantage by doing the same thing in the 150m.
Strong start for team Australia
As in the first two meetings, the home team got off to a flying start. Morgan Mitchell (200m), Luke Stevens (400m), Anneliese Rubie (600m) and Like Mathews (800m). Mitchell won a three-way battle with Jenebah Tarmoh (All-Stars) and Team England’s Hannah Williams on the first leg before Mathews held off England’s Michael Rimmer over the final two laps.
Mitchell and Stevens also combined to win the 2x300m relay. In one of the night’s closest finished Stevens held off Rio 400 hurdles champion Kerron Clement, 1:09.71 to 1:09.73, after Mitchell had got the better of Jenna Prandini on the opening leg.
The All-Stars sprint domination continued with Asafa Powell taking the men’s 60m in 6.62 and Prandini the women’s in 7.31. Day presaged things to come in finishing third in 7.46.
England won both the ambulatory sprints with James Arnott taking the men’s 100 and Erin McBride prevailing in a close finish over Mana Sasaki (JPN) and Ella Pardy (AUS) to take the women’s in 12.87, Sasaki was 12.88 and Pardy 12.89.
Australia held a 38-point lead coming into the final event, the 4x100. It was never going to be enough to win overall – that required a 65-point margin – but a top three finish would have completed victory on the night.
Reverting to the same line-up as on night one – Powell starting, Bolt up the back-straight, Prandini the bend and Tarmoh the anchor, the All-Stars came home in 40.45 seconds. Australia finished fifth.
It was a full-house at Lakeside Stadium, capping a successful series. Television viewing figures have also been excellent. Nitro Athletics has made an auspicious start. It will be interesting to see where to from here.
Len Johnson for the IAAF