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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Steve Hooker, Samuels star at Sydney Classic

The high and mighty of Australian track and field opened their season at the Sydney Track Classic on Saturday. None soared higher than Steve Hooker's 5.91m in the men's pole vault and none threw mighter than fellow world champion Dani Samuels, who whirled the discus a personal best 65.84m.
By IAAF | Posted: Feb 27, 1:05p ET | Updated: Feb 27, 1:05p ET

SYDNEY, Australia -- The high and mighty of Australian athletics opened their season at the Sydney Track Classic, none higher than Steve Hooker's 5.91m pole vault and none mighter than fellow World Champion Dani Samuels who threw the discus a personal best 65.84m.

World champions Hooker and Samuels thrill

World Champions Hooker and Samuels really thrilled the crowd with their appropriately world class displays, both results better than their winning marks in Berlin last summer.

"I didn't expect a PB tonight at all, my plan was to get consistent at 63m and 64m because I did jump up quite a bit to 65m at the world champs so to get a PB I can't believe it, I said I'd be happy with 63m tonight so to get a PB I'm just over the moon," Samuels confirmed after her 65.85m.

"My first two rounds in the warm-up were really good, I felt really powerful actually and I've been going really well in training and I got my third one out and the next one was a bit dodgy, a bit inconsistent, but I knew that it was definitely there, I'd been feeling so consistent and so powerful that I just had to get the angle right."

Samuels, 22, threw the discus 65.44m to win gold in Berlin and become history's youngest World champion in the event, but she has made significant training gains since then under the technical direction of her coach Dennis Knowles and his son, Hayden, who is her strength and conditioning coach. Hayden also conditions the National Rugby League grand finalist football team, the Parramatta Eels, as well as two World boxing champions - Vic Darchinyan and Danny Green.

Hooker struggled mid-competition tonight, troubled by some strong changes in the velocity of the tailwind and with his self-generated and new-found speed on the runway.

The Olympic and World titleholder needed three attempts to clear a modest 5.60m and another three to negotiate 5.70m successfully, but he showed composure and his champion qualities in scaling 5.81m at the first attempt and 5.91m also on the first try. He failed at 6.01m but his clearance of 5.91 in his first serious meet of the year is still higher than the 5.90m with which he won last year's gold medal under far more trying circumstances in Berlin.

"That last jump was pretty good, I felt like I had a massive amount of height there but I'd run out of a little bit of gas by then and I just wasn't carrying quite enough speed down the runway to get in on that pole," the 27-year-old Western Australian-based athlete said.

"By the end of the night I'd done a lot of jumps and a lot of run-downs so I probably needed really good conditions to get in on that pole tonight. I felt like things improved technically throughout the competition so that's the main thing for me.

"5.91m is a great result, 6.01m would have been amazing and that would have been an outdoor personal best for me but it's still very early in the season and I can't expect to go out and jump that high every week, especially when I had so many jumps early in the competition but it's really positive for me to get down there and have such a good attempt at it."

Gregson and Offereins breakthrough

And there were breakthrough performances by many competitors at Sydney Olympic Park in what may perhaps herald a new golden age for the sport "Down Under".

Wollongong teenager Ryan Gregson, 19, smashed the 1500m meet record of 3:35.74sec set in 1999 by Sydney Olympic gold medallist Noah Ngeny. The self-effacing Gregson defeated Collis Birmingham (3:35.89) with a searing sprint over the last 150m to win in 3:35.42, saying later: "World wide it's a rubbish run because I'm a senior now."

He had been training at the mid-range altitude (1600m) of Falls Creek and only returned to sea level the day of the meet but he did not personally subscribe to the theory of "train high, race low" suggesting he may even be struggling to adapt although the only signs of discomfort was on the face of older opponents whom he embarrassed with his wicked finishing kick.

Ben Offereins, 23, who won the national 400m title in 2005 and had been a ghost until last year, became only the eighth Australian ever to dip under 45sec with his win in a meet record 44.86sec ahead of Beijing Olympic semi-finalist Sean Wroe (45.40), Kenya's World No.1 ranked 800m star David Rudisha (45.50) and USA's Beijing Olympic 400m bronze medallist David Neville (45.90) with a teenager from the NSW Central Coast, Kevin Moore, next in 46.13 from lane eight.

"I've had injuries every season since 2005 but my mind-set has changed. Instead of getting down on myself about it, I do what I have to do to recover," said Offereins, who puts in a full working week starting 6:30am as a draftsman from engineering company Calibre Engenium, then attending technical collage from noon before training in the evenings with his coach in Perth, Lyn Foreman, a former Commonwealth 400m Hurdles record holder in the early 1980s.

"I have lunch when I break down," quipped Offereins, who noted that running 44sec "hurt more than I thought it would."

Flood of Delhi qualifiers; Doha team show form

Australian athletes are getting ready for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India, in October and tonight 17 achieved the tough A-qualifying standards and another 25 bettered the B-standard in a show of quality and quantity not seen since the days approaching the Sydney Olympic Games a decade ago.

Six have been selected to compete at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha, Qatar, from March 12-14. All of them bettered the Commonwealth Games A-standard tonight except for Berlin World Championship Long Jump finalist Fabrice Lapierre who sat this meet out as a precaution due to a tight hamstring muscle. Melbourne's mighty Scotty Martin confirmed his seat on the flight to Doha by winning the shot put with a mark of 20.06m.

"It's awesome. I've had a really bad month. I've only had one or two throwing sessions in the last month," Martin said, delighting in his performance under some pressure. "I was supposed to have done six competitions by now, but this is my first for the summer."

Visitors impress - Pitkämäki 84.64m and Vili 20.57m

Visiting throwers Tero Pitkämäki, the 2007 World Javelin Throw champion from Finland, and Valerie Vili, the reigning World, Olympic and Commonwealth Shot Put champion from New Zealand, were happy with their impressive marks tonight.

Pitkämäki won a high class affair with a throw of 84.64 into the wind from Australia's Jarrod Bannister (81.15m) and New Zealand's Stuart Farquhar (79.80m).

"I've never competed ever at this time of the year. Usually I throw indoors against a wall. It's pretty boring," Pitkämäki admitted. "My goal is to throw over 86m at the Melbourne Track Classic on Thursday (March 4). The Melbourne Track Classic is the first event on the IAAF World Challenge for 2010.

Bannister, 25, who has switched coaches from Garry Calvert (now based in New Jersey, USA) to work with Uwe Hohn, the former East German World record holder now in Melbourne, has been slowly working his way back from injury since he threw a long standing world season leading 89m mark early in 2008. "Training is going really well. Uwe is developing me to be more of an athlete, with a lot of different types of training including a lot of gymnastics," Bannister said. "I don't just lift heavy in the gym and throw for training and I'm feeling faster and more explosive although I didn't really connect on any of my throws tonight."

Vili, perhaps the most dominant female athlete in any event today, was colossal in blasting the iron orb 20.57m which improved her own meet record of 20.09m set only last year. Even without the stimulation of any serious opponents, Vili's mark approached the Australian All-Comers Record of 20.69m set by Natalya Lisovskaya at the IAAF World Cup in Canberra in 1985.

"I'm pretty happy. It's my second throw for the season. There is nobody to chase here but you want to put on a good show for the crowd so I'm pretty happy," Vili said. But she knows the tension will rise when she gets to Doha to face Nadzeya Ostapchuk, the Belorussian who leads the world with her put of 21.70m indoors earlier in February.

Boden over Lewis at 400m Hurdles

Canberra 400m Hurdler Lauren Boden, 21, became the first Australian to clock a Commonwealth A-qualifying time on the track this domestic season with her breakthrough 55.75 trouncing of national titleholder Tamsyn Lewis, the reigning World Indoor champion over 800m, who moved to the hurdles and managed 56.73 tonight in second place.

"We added some new elements to my training. I could never finish my races. I'd go out at 54sec (pace) to 300m and come home in 59 sec pace which just isn't acceptable," Boden admitted. "Tonight I ran 15 strides to hurdle 8 and 16s to 10 and it feels great."

Content courtesy of IAAF