All Roads Lead to Sydney: A Glimpse of What to Expect at National Championships

IAAF Melbourne World Challenge, March 5

At times you wondered where the highlights were going to come from on Saturday night, and then literally within 5 minutes the crowd was a buzz with super charged performances both on the track and in the field. Leading the charge were our most experienced field athletes in Alana Boyd (4.71m in the pole vault) and Kathryn Mitchell (64.37m in the javelin), while on the track we saw the ‘next generation’ with Dane Bird-Smith (Australian record in the 5000m Walk), Morgan Mitchell (52.16 in the 400m) and Luke Mathews (1.45.16 in the 800m) setting the crowd a light. While Madeline Hills showed fantastic early season form with an excellent 9.34.44 in the women’s 3000m steeplechase, and Elenor Patterson joined in on the fun with a superb 1.93m in the women’s high jump.

Boyd in Career Best Form – Can She Medal in Rio?

If there was ever a year that you thought Alana Boyd could win a medal at a major championships it’s this year that we’re currently in. It just so happens that it’s also an Olympic year – so the timing of her career best performances couldn’t be better. Already in 2016 she has had five competitions where she has cleared at least 4.60m, with the most encouraging aspect of these results being her three competitions where’s she’s jumped 4.77m (new National Record) and 4.71m (twice) – which included her win at the Melbourne World Challenge.

Alana Boyd

The amazing thing is that Boyd is not even the no.1 pole vaulter in Oceania – that honour goes to newly crowned Oceania record holder*, New Zealand teenage sensation Eliza McCartney. Her 4.80m win at the NZ Championships over the weekend has the 19 year-old as a serious threat for even bigger things in Rio – and all roads could easily lead to Boyd and McCartney fighting it out for a medal at this year’s Olympic Games.

* to be ratified

After 11th place finishes at both the 2012 London Olympics and 2015 World Championships, whilst also winning gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Boyd is ready for bigger things in 2016. At 31 years of age Boyd is reaching the peak of her vaulting powers, and her experience will be telling as we enter the cauldron that is the Rio Olympics. We now wait in anticipation as Boyd takes on the world at the World Indoor Championships (March 17-20) – an important stepping stone to the ‘big one’ in August.

Mathews 1.45.16 800m – Does the Hysteria Match his Talents?

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Luke Mathews – on his way to Rio if everything falls into place

Sometimes in Australia we get a little carried away with certain local performances, not truly understanding how hard it is to make it to the very top of such a demanding sport – a sport that can chew an athlete up and spit them out in a very short space of time. So you can understand that when analysing Luke Mathews‘ amazing 1.45.16 PB over the 800m on Saturday night, that we look at the performance from all angles.

Some interesting facts that should be noted:

  • Mathews’ 1.45.16 was the second fastest time ever recorded by an Australian in Australia – only Peter Bourke has run faster in Australia (1.44.78 in Brisbane, while also running a 1.45.18 in Brisbane – both back in 1982)
  • It ranks Mathews at no.339 on the world all-time ranking list, but more importantly moves him to no.6 on the Australian all-time list
  • Is the 8th fastest time ever run in Melbourne (note: David Rudisha owns five of these, including his 1.44.78 from Saturday night)
  • Is well under the Olympic Qualifying time of 1.46.00
  • Would have ranked Mathews at no.42 on the world list in 2012 – the last Olympic year

So yes, the performance was a breakthrough for Mathews and now launches him into being a truly international standard athlete. We also should note that he turns 21 in June this year, so he’s just starting out on his journey to overall success at the highest level. He also duly noted that he still has a lot more to learn in both the 800m and 1500m – but in the end he has shown us just a glimpse of his full potential and so don’t wait to get on the ‘Mathews Express’ – as he takes us on a journey that we can only hope leads him to many more highlights over the coming years.

[ed. we now have Jeff Riseley (1.44.99), Luke Mathews (1.45.16) and Josh Ralph (1.45.79) all with qualifiers for Rio, while Alex Rowe and James Gurr (who ran to within 0.09 of the OQ in Melbourne) both chasing Rio qualifiers. If Ralph didn’t record a faster time than he already has, either Rowe or Gurr would need to run faster than 1.45.79 to make it to Rio. All we can say is this years National 800m final should be one to mark in your diaries].

Hills Also in Career Best Form – Top-8 in Rio?

Every year since Madeline Hills (nee Heiner) made a comeback to the track (back in 2014), she has shown us continuous improvement. In her first year back on track Hills ran PB’s over 1500m (4.14.74), 3000m (9.07.73), 5000m (15.27.75) and 3000m steeple (9.34.01 – when 4th at the Commonwealth Games). Then in 2015 we witnessed her take it up to the best in the world in the Diamond League meetings (including a 9.21.56 when 5th at the Rome event).

In 2016 we have already seen signs that the Australian record in the women’s 3000m steeplechase is in danger, with a PB of 4.11.78 in the 1500m and a commanding win at the Melbourne World Challenge in 9.34.44. The disappointment of not making either the 3000m steeplechase final or the 5000m final at the Beijing World Championships should now be a distant memory – and the experiences gained over the past 3 years on the track should all point to some exciting times leading into what should be a very successful Olympic campaign.

Other Important Notes from the IAAF World Challenge in Melbourne

  • Patterson03
    Elenor Patterson – eyeing off a new Australian record in 2016

    On Saturday night Elenor Patterson (right) didn’t looked like the jumper who had cleared 1.96m in both 2013 and 2015, but once she cleared 1.89m on her third attempt everything turned around in a blink of an eye. With some good crowd support, Patterson also cleared 1.93m on her third attempt and then had some quality attempts at a new PB of 1.97m. How things can change with just one successful jump.

  • Aaron Stubbs simply ‘stuffed it up’ when he lunged at a line that was 10m short of the full 100m in Melbourne. It was probably the difference between running the 10.34s and maybe a sub 10.25s, but luckily it didn’t cost him a Rio qualifier. In his defence they had changed the event to be run down the back straight (due to the winds), and the markings were a bit deceiving – so in the end he is still well on track for something big when everything goes to plan (10.16s is the magical number for Rio)
  • Ryan Gregson was ready for a quick time in the men’s 1500m, but was surprised to see James Magut (3.30.61 PB over 1500m) not take up the running in the early stages. Leaving it to a last lap surge, Gregson would have been happy to walk off the track with a 3.38.06. There will be faster races for Gregson to attack the Rio qualifier of 3.36.20, and when Mathews lines up in the 1500m again we could just see the fast race that both require to dip under the all important Rio qualifying time.
  • Dane Bird-Smith knew that he was in the form required to break the National record, and he backed it up on the track with a fantastic 18.38.97 to eclipse both the Australian Allcomers record of 18.40.11 (Eder Sanchez of Mexico in 2009) and the Australian National record of 18.41.83 (Jared Tallent, 2nd to Sanchez in the same race in Sydney).
  • _JXP1220
    Morgan Mitchell – a focused athlete looking for bigger performances over the remainder of 2016

    Morgan Mitchell had the pressure of being the form athlete entering the Melbourne meeting, but handled in to perfection with a beautifully timed run to record yet another OQ of 52.16. Mitchell understands that beating the likes of Christine Day (JAM), who has a PB of 50.14, shouldn’t be taken out of context (understanding that the Jamaicans are ‘out of season’) – although she still delivered when it counted. [ed. there are reports that Anneliese Rubie came into the meeting off the back of a slight injury, and therefore we shouldn’t be overly concerned with her time on the night of 52.89 – which was still solid nonetheless].

  • Damien Birkinhead wasn’t at his very best in Melbourne after picking up an injury to his calf (to be confirmed), but still managed a 20.16m throw. One of our most in form athletes, with great expectations heading into Rio.
  • Dani Samuels rolled her ankle in training during the week and had to pull out of the women’s discus throw. In her absence Australian Taryn Gollshewsky produced a new PB of 58.91m. Gollshewsky still remains an outside chance to make the Australian team for Rio, with the qualifying mark set at 61.00m.
  • In the men’s 5000m Brett Robinson took the win in 13.33.13, with some excellent results behind the already Rio qualified middle distance star. Both Sam McEntee (13.33.73, 2nd) and Stewart McSweyn (13.41.74 and Tasmanian State record) set big PB’s, while Mitchel Brown (13.39.11) just missed his PB set at the same meeting in 2015.
  • Finally Kathryn Mitchell produced the third best throw in the world this year in the women’s javelin (64.37m), and you couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as she ticked the Olympic qualifier box for Rio. It was her third best throw of her career – and all this at just shy of 34 years of age. Mitchell placed 9th at the London Olympics and a year later placed 5th at the Moscow World Championships. Could she again be in line for a top-10 position in Rio?

Updated Power Rankings – as at March 6

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