The stage is set for the launch of the 2014 Australian Athletics Tour, with the WA Athletics Stadium ready to welcome an outstanding set of athletes for the Go for 2&5 Perth Track Classic on Saturday 15 February.
With competition to unfold on a brand new track surface and in what forecasts suggest will be perfect weather conditions, this year’s meet pits a touring contingent of international athletes against stellar line up of Australia’s best as they continue their push for selection to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (SCO) later this year.
Headlining the international line-up in 2014 are London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Felix Sanchez (DOM, 400m hurdles) and world champion LaShawn Merritt (USA, 400m), with the duo joined on the ‘visitors list’ by plethora of rivals including African sprint champion Simon Magakwe (RSA, 100m/200m), Commonwealth Games finalist Mosito Lehata (LES, 100m/200m), national record holder Yuki Ebihara (JPN, javelin), Olympic finalist Stuart Farquhar (NZL, javelin), mile specialist James Magut (KEN, mile) and Moscow 2013 finalist Susan Kuijken (NED, 1500m).
One of the greatest hurdlers in history, Sanchez’s trophy cabinet includes two Olympic crowns, two world titles, an IAAF World Championships silver and 13 victories at an IAAF Golden or Diamond League event. His start in Perth is his first on the western coast of Australia, and his third trip Down Under after making his Olympic debut at Sydney 2000.
Merritt’s international resume is equally impressive, with the 27-year-old a winner of eleven medals, including eight gold, in the 400m and 4x400m relay at either the Olympic Games or IAAF World Championships. His time of 43.74 to win the men’s 400m in Moscow last August made him the fifth fastest man in history and one of only ten men to break the magical 44-second barrier in the one-lap race.
Excitingly for fans of the green and gold, the entry list of Australian charges is also full of talent, with no less than 20 starters from our IAAF World Championships team last year to battle it out.
IAAF World Championships silver medallist and local favourite Kim Mickle (WA) is one of them, and she will be joined on the runway for the women’s javelin by her fellow Moscow 2013 finalist Kathryn Mitchell (Vic) and Commonwealth Games A-Qualified Kelsey-Lee Roberts (ACT). All three are ranked in the top-ten in the world and start with season best throws of 66.12m, 66.10m and 63.72m respectively.
The men’s javelin is also strong, with Australian Flame Hamish Peacock (Tas), who has a personal best of 81.14m, to face-off with the Commonwealth Games B-Qualified Matt Outzen (NSW), Luke Cann (Vic) and Cruz Hogan (WA).
The Go for 2&5 Perth Track Classic will also deliver the competitive return of Robbie Crowther (ACT) in the men’s long jump, while in the women’s pole vault a Western Australian squad of Liz Parnov (WA), Vicky Parnov (WA), Emma Phillippe (WA) and Nina Kennedy (WA) will soar against Alana Boyd (Qld), who only last week jumped a season best 4.61m at the Rare Air Club in Melbourne (Vic).
On track, the developing sprint rivalry between Sally Pearson (Qld) and Melissa Breen (Vic) heats up.
They will compete against each other for the first time in the women’s 100m since Breen ran an Australian record of 11.11 at the ACT Athletics Championships to edge out Pearson for the win for the first time from 30 races against each other. Pearson will also compete in the women’s 100m hurdles as she continues her preparation for the IAAF World Indoor Championships, with the ‘Dancing Hurdler’ Michelle Jenneke (NSW) and Commonwealth Games B-Qualified Shannon McCann (WA) also to run.
A tantalizing men’s mile features a formidable contingent of Australian men including Collis Birmingham (Vic) and Cameron Page (NSW), while in the women’s metric mile, the 1500m, IAAF World Championships finalist Zoe Buckman (Vic) will take to the track alongside London 2012 Olympian Kaila McKnight (Vic), Australian Flame Kelly Hetherington (Vic) and the Commonwealth Games B-Qualified Melissa Duncan (Vic). Duncan narrowly defeated Buckman in the event at the Briggs Athletics Classic earlier this month, and you can expect a strong showing from the quartet here tonight.
Boasting two Commonwealth Games B-Qualifiers from the Zatopek:10 in December and the Adelaide Track Classic last weekend, Josh Ralph (NSW) is the man that Alex Rowe (Vic) and Jeff Riseley (Vic) will have to beat in the men’s 800m.
“I was a bit anxious after making the decision to shift up to the 800m, and it’s good to know that I can mix it with some pretty experienced athletes. When I ran at the Zatopek late last year and got my first qualifier it was a little unexpected. I knew that I had done work to run as quick as I did but I wasn’t sure if I could execute an 800m race well and keep with the leaders as the closing stages played out,” Ralph said.
“The same goes for Adelaide on the weekend. The conditions weren’t ideal, and I wasn’t sure how the race would unfold. It seemed to go my way towards the end there, I was in a good spot, and it’s about continuing to find that spot as I learn the technicalities of the 800m compared with the flat 400.
“I’m excited to run against Jeff this weekend. I haven’t competed against him before so it will be good to have him on the track again,” Ralph added.
“Alex and I went toe-to-toe in Adelaide and he is a great athlete to run alongside. With Jeff in the mix as well now I think we can expect to see some pretty strong results. It’ll be a good learning opportunity for me too as I am still developing my skills of reading the race and what other athletes might do.”
In the shorter 400m, Sean Wroe (Vic), Craig Burns (Qld) and Ben Offereins (WA) will race, as Tristan Thomas (Tas) and Ian Dewhurst (NSW), who won gold and silver at the Australian Athletics Championships last year, prepare to tackle the men’s 400m hurdles.
The Go for 2&5 Perth Track Classic is the first of three events that form the 2014 Australian Athletics Tour, with the Sydney Track Classic and the IAAF Melbourne World Challenge to follow in March.
The event continuing the custom of world-class athletics descending on Perth as part of a strong partnership between Athletics Australia and the Western Australian Government, through its event agency Eventscorp. The partnership also includes hosting the Australian Junior Athletics Championships in 2016, after the event was taken west for the first time last year. The 2013 championship was the largest in history, with participation levels thriving in the ideal conditions at the Western Australia Athletics Stadium.