Australian discus thrower Dani Stevens (© Getty Images)
There was a national record in the women’s pole vault, one of two Tokyo Olympic automatic standards on the night. There were two national championships decided in the 5000m.
None of those laurels fell to Dani Stevens, but it was difficult to go past her win in the discus as the most significant performance of the Sydney Track Classic, the second of three Australian meetings forming part of the 2021 World Athletics Continental Tour Bronze meeting series.
Competing for just the second time in two-and-a-half years, Stevens won the event in which she has been a world championships gold and silver medallist, an Olympic fourth placegetter and a fixture in the world top 10 for more than a decade, with a throw of 63.36m.
This was just 14 centimetres short of the 63.50m Tokyo automatic qualifying standard, a mark she had already achieved in her only other competition since September 2018. Stevens threw 65.93m at a Sydney interclub competition in November 2019. It was the fact she was throwing at all which both thrilled her and the fans at her hometown meeting in which she was competing for the sixteenth time.
Back and neck injuries had threatened to end Stevens’ career just as she had enjoyed lifetime-best form through 2017 and 2018. In London in 2017 she took the silver medal at the World Championships, eight years after she had become the youngest-ever world champion in the event in Berlin in 2009. Her 69.64m in London was a career-best and she followed up with a 68.26m to win the gold medal at her home Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018.
But Stevens missed all of 2019 other than that low-key, late-year competition. Then, in 2020, just as Covid-19 closed world competition down and forced the postponement of the Tokyo Games, she was left unable to even lift her throwing arm after an accident in the gym, and the resulting popped disc, severely damaged a nerve. Her first priority in rehabilitation, she said, “was to get some function back” in her arm.
In a pre-meeting interview, Stevens described the competition as “just a starting point to see where I’m at.” With four throws exceeding 60 metres – 61.67m, 62.81m, 60.18m and her 63.36m best – and two fouls, it seems she is in a pretty good place.
“It’s a good starting point to be around the Olympic qualifier in March,” Stevens said. “I love the feeling (of competing), I love the adrenalin, and I love throwing something a long way.”
Kennedy tops 4.82m
Stevens is one of that rare breed of athlete to have won world titles at youth, junior and open levels. Though Nina Kennedy set a world junior record of 4.59m in the pole vault in 2015, her transition from outstanding junior to outstanding senior has experienced some bumps along the way.
NATIONAL RECORD for Nina Kennedy in the pole vault. She now has six Olympic qualifiers to her name, taking it to another level tonight when narrowly missing 4.87m. #ThisIsAthletics #ContinentalTourBronze pic.twitter.com/kRQeMPhxaV— Athletics Australia (@AthsAust) March 13, 2021
Kennedy has hit a new level of consistency now. In Sydney, she capped that improvement – for now – with a clearance at 4.82m, adding one centimetre to the national record set by Alana Boyd in 2016 a couple of months before she finished fourth in the Rio Olympic final.
Kennedy opened with easy clearances at 4.50m and 4.70m, had one miss before another big clearance at a personal best 4.77m, and then sailed over 4.82m first time as well. She bowed out with three good attempts at 4.87m. In her current form, Rio bronze medallist Eliza McCartney’s Oceania record of 4.94m may not be beyond Kennedy.
Her coach, six-metre vaulter Paul Burgess, can certainly see more. “It was an amazing jump,” he said of the record leap. “She cleared it by a lot.”
Kurtis Marschall won the men’s event with 5.75m, going out with three misses at a personal best 5.90m.
Riley Day burst on to the Australian scene as a teenager, winning the national sprint double at the 2018 national titles just over a month before her 18th birthday. She ran 22.93 that year, which remained her personal best until she produced a 22.77 (w: 2.0) to win the Sydney 200m. That was 0.03 under the Tokyo auto standard and should see Day into the Olympic team.
The men’s and women’s 5000m national titles were contested at the meeting. Canada’s Doha finalist Andrea Seccafien snatched victory from Jenny Blundell at the line to win the women’s race, 15:25.62 to 15:25.84. Blundell took the national title, however, from Izzi Batt-Doyle and Genevieve Gregson.
Matthew Ramsden was a more decisive winner of the men’s title, a sub-56 second final lap taking him to the line almost two seconds clear of Brett Robinson, 13:29.99 to 13:31.97.
In the 100m hurdles, Liz Clay continued her run of good performance with a win in 12.88 (+1.3). Behind the Sharon Hannan-coached hurdler, the Sally Pearson-coached Hannah Jones crept ever closer to a sub-13 with 13.01.
Clay competed with bandaging on her shoulder, the result of a training fall earlier in the week. “I had a huge fall,” she told Tamsyn Manou. “I hit my head and (skidded along) the ground.
“I was probably overdue a fall,” Clay laughed. “I haven’t had one in years and it’s part and parcel of hurdling.”
Doubling back from the Canberra meeting two days earlier, Nick Hough won the men’s 110 hurdles in 13.61 ahead of Nicholas Andrews’ personal best 13.66.
Most of the 800m runners had also competed in Canberra. Peter Bol, who just missed the Tokyo auto standard in the national capital, was taken through 400 in 50.45 by training mate Joseph Deng, on his way to a 1:46.12 win.
In the women’s race, Linden Hall, who ran the 1500m in Canberra, followed the pacemaker to build a big lead ahead of Catriona Bisset and then hung on to defy Bisset’s late charge to win in a personal best 2:01.27. Bisset, over 10 metres down coming into the straight, was a step back in 2:01.58.
Len Johnson for World Athletics