In big news for athletics fans on the west coast, Athletics Australia can today confirm the start of Olympic 400m hurdles gold medallist Felix Sanchez (DOM) and reigning world 400m champion LaShawn Merritt (USA) at the Go for 2&5 Perth Track Classic on Saturday 22 February.
Set to compete alongside a bountiful list of Australian talent including our own London 2012 golden girl Sally Pearson (Qld) and 2013 IAAF World Championships javelin silver medallist Kim Mickle (WA) at the Western Australia Athletics Stadium, the fast-paced duo will launch the Australian Athletics Tour with a bang thanks to the Perth event being the first on the calendar for 2014.
Crossing the line in 47.63 to win an emotional 400m hurdles gold medal at London 2012, his second Olympic crown after previously winning in Athens (GRE) eight years earlier, Sanchez is one of the greatest hurdlers in history.
Storming onto the world stage in 2001 when he won gold at the IAAF World Championships in Edmonton (CAN), the Dominican’s trophy cabinet also includes a second world title from Paris (FRA) in 2003, a World Championships silver medal from Osaka (JPN) in 2007 and 13 victories at an IAAF Golden or Diamond League event.
He has competed at the Olympic Games on four occasions, debuting at Sydney 2000, and has appeared in the 400m hurdles or 4x400m relay final on eight occasions at the IAAF World Championships.
Sanchez’s start in Perth will be his first visit to the western coast of Australia, and his most recent trip Down Under since taking line honours in the 400m hurdles at the Goodwill Games in Brisbane (Qld) in 2001.
“I learned so much as an athlete in Sydney, and for the next four years leading to my win in Athens I would always compete wearing the illuminated wristband that was presented to me in the Athletes Village as motivation to push for the Olympic Games again,” Sanchez said.
“I haven’t been to the western half of Australia before though, so it will be my first time in Perth which is great. World is that the conditions are perfect.”
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.
In Moscow (RUS) last August, Merritt stopped the lock at 43.74 to regain the world title that he won for the first time at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin (GER) in 2009 and to improve on his silver from Daegu (KOR) two years earlier. His performance 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.
He was the winner of the men’s 400m at the Eugene (USA), Rome (ITA), Stockholm (SWE) and Zurich (SUI) instalments of the 2013 IAAF Diamond League, with his times in each combining with five other races to make up nine of the top-20 fastest times of 2013.
“I’m pumped to get back to Australia, it will be my first visit since way back in 2007. I ran in Melbourne and Sydney then so this will be my first hit out in Perth. I like new challenges so starting my season with a race on a fresh track is a bold but positive move,” Merritt said.
The confirmation of Sanchez and Merritt continues 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.
“The Go for 2&5 Perth Track Classic is a great opportunity for sports fans in Western Australia to witness the best-of-the-best of the athletics world, with international superstars like LaShawn and Felix set to join Australia’s best talent including much of our team from the recent IAAF World Championships,” Dallas O’Brien, Athletics Australia Chief Executive Officer, said.
“We were thrilled when the Western Australian Government threw their support behind Australian athletics back in 2011 and we are proud that the relationship continues to grow and prosper as we head into this a Commonwealth Games year. Delivering entertaining and engaging athletics to Australian fans is what the Australian Athletics Tour is all about, and making this happen would be impossible without the valuable financial contribution of government. For this we are very grateful.”
“The Go for 2&5 Perth Track Classic is shaping up to be a must-see event for sports fans. It will be fantastic to see Olympic champions Sanchez and Merritt competing in Perth at our fantastic Athletics Stadium and it will be great to welcome back Australian stars including Sally Pearson and WA’s own Kim Mickle,” Stephanie Buckland, the Tourism Western Australia Chief Executive, added.
“Tourism WA, through its events division, Evenstcorp is proud to support the Go for 2&5 Perth Track Classic.”
The Australian Athletics Tour is the pinnacle series of athletics events in Australia, with the three-meet series also being hosted in Sydney (March 15) and Melbourne (March 22) in the coming months.