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Report15 Feb 2024

Youth and establishment both shine as Continental Tour Gold kicks off in Melbourne


Claudia Hollingsworth celebrates her 800m win in Melbourne (© Getty Images)

The battle between youth and the establishment at Melbourne’s Maurie Plant Meet, the first of this year’s World Athletics Continental Tour Gold events, turned out to be inconclusive on Thursday (15).

But if it was a draw, it was nothing like a boring nil-nil affair. The establishment struck a blow when Stewart McSweyn and Jake Wightman turned back the challenge of 17-year-old Cameron Myers in the John Landy Mile. And another when Zoe Hobbs won the 100m ahead of newly-crowned Australian record-holder Torrie Lewis.

But in keeping with the theme of the Australian season to date, it was a youngster who produced the most resounding and emphatic win of the night when Claudia Hollingsworth turned back Abbey Caldwell and Catriona Bisset to win the 800m.

Hollingsworth races with remarkable maturity for such a young runner. She waited patiently as Bendere Oboya burst through the first lap in just over 57 seconds, again as Bisset, looking to put an ordinary run in Adelaide last weekend behind her, made her move in the back-straight and yet again when the in-form winner of that race, Caldwell, led the trio into the final straight.

Then she pounced. Hollingsworth produced a 60-second final lap a week ago as she improved her 1500m personal best to 4:04 and change, but this time she produced a similar finish against the two fastest women in Australian history.

Hollingsworth was five metres clear at the finish in 1:59.81. Caldwell was second in 2:00.54 and Bisset third in 2:01.41.

After Adelaide, Hollingsworth had announced the modest aim of improving her previous best (2:01.60) in the 800m in Melbourne. Based on that, her run was a significant breakthrough. No-one who has been paying the slightest attention to her development over the past couple of years was the least surprised.

Hollingsworth, who turns 19 in April and is coached by Craig Mottram, now faces some interesting choices as the Olympic year unfolds. The 800m, 1500m or both at the national championships? Does she compete at U20 level or senior, or both? Olympics or World U20 Championships, or both?

McSweyn edges Wightman; Myers not far behind

For a moment off the final bend in the mile it looked like Myers might pull off a similar victory over 2022 world 1500m champion Wightman and McSweyn. Having tracked the big two throughout the race he moved to challenge them. The moment evaporated almost as soon as it had appeared possible.

Myers, not 18 until June, lost no friends though as he chased the older two down the straight to finish third in 3:52.44, within a stride of the fastest ever run by a 17-year-old, achieved by Jakob Ingebrigtsen.

Just ahead of him, McSweyn and Wightman went stride for stride to the line. Only in the last 10 metres was it clear that McSweyn would win, albeit by a whisker, 3:52.00 to 3:52.11.

Stewart McSweyn wins the mile in Melbourne

Stewart McSweyn wins the mile in Melbourne (© Getty Images)

It was a record of sorts. In the now 40-plus years of Melbourne’s annual meeting it has gone through several iterations: the NEC Classic, the Melbourne Track Classic and now, the Maurie Plant Meet. Way back in the day, at the 1991 NEC Classic, Simon Doyle beat Pat Scammell in an earlier John Landy Mile in 3:51.54.

By any name, it was a very good race.

Olyslagers and Bell reign in the field

At this stage of the Olympic year, world champion Yaroslava Mahuchikh and Olympic silver medallist Nicola Olyslagers seem to be playing a game of “anything you can do.”

Olyslagers opened her season with an equal Oceania record 2.03m in Canberra on 26 January. Mahuchikh responded with a 2.04m in Cottbus five days later and then 2.00m at the Millrose Games in New York.

Cool and breezy conditions in Melbourne were not conducive to jumping high heights, but Olyslagers still performed brilliantly. She came in at 1.90m after all the other competitors had bowed out, then cleared 1.93m and 1.96m first time. It took all three tries for her to clear her winning 1.99m. New Zealand’s Hamish Kerr won the men’s event with 2.25m, bowing out at 2.30m.

Another Kiwi, Connor Bell, continued to ruin Matt Denny’s plans of a winning start to the year, taking the discus again as he had in Adelaide. It was closer this time – nine centimetres as against 19 – but his 65.18m was enough to hold out Denny’s fifth round best of 65.09m.

The other top throwing performance came from Kathryn Mitchell in the javelin, the Australian record-holder winning with a throw of 62.12m. The veteran’s last three major competitions have been contrasting to say the least, a season best to qualify for the final in Budapest last year, unable to throw due to injury in the final, and now a win over New Zealand’s Tori Peeters, Japan’s Momone Ueda and Australia’s Kelsey-Lee Barber.

Hobbs sees off Lewis

Lewis faced as tough a task as any of the emerging Australian group in the women’s 100m: New Zealand’s Hobbs. Hobbs has run under 11 seconds on multiple occasions – including in Australia last year – and was a semifinalist in Budapest. Lewis got close in Melbourne, pretty well matching Hobbs in all phases of the race.

But at the line Hobbs had half-a-metre to spare, 11.34 to 11.40, better running than it looked from the times into a 1.2 headwind and in the cool conditions.

Zoe Hobbs wins the 100m in Melbourne

Zoe Hobbs wins the 100m in Melbourne (© Getty Images)

The women’s 100m hurdles was similarly impacted by the conditions, but Olympic semifinalist Liz Clay was pleased as punch on her return after an injury punctuated couple of years. Her 13.02 edged out Michelle Jenneke, Queen Claye and Michelle Harrison who crossed the line virtually together in 13.12, 13.16 and 13.18.

Rose Davies produced a strong finish over the final 600 metres to win the women’s 5000m in 14:57.54 from Isobel Batt-Doyle, also under 15 minutes for the first time with 14:59.18, and Ethiopia’s African U20 record-holder Aynadis Mebratu, with 15:04.84.

Len Johnson for World Athletics

Miss any of the action? Rewatch the meeting in Melbourne on demand on Inside Track. Geo-restrictions may apply.