Collis Birmingham winning the 5000m in Hobart (© Getty Images)
Hobart, AustraliaTo say that Collis Birmingham likes running in Hobart might be a bit of an understatement. Five times in the past six years he has won the 5000 metres at the Briggs Athletics Classic (the sixth time, he did not run it).
In the last four laps of the 5000 on Saturday night (4), Birmingham felt the love returning all over again. After Ryan Gregson had paced the race through 3000 in just on eight minutes, Birmingham surged clear of Ben St Lawrence and Britain’s Nick McCormick to win in 13:15.57.
Birmingham built his lead lap by lap, leaving St Lawrence well back in second in 13:24.30 and McCormick third in 13:32.88.
Birmingham’s performance marked the second time he has bettered the Olympic A-standard in the qualifying period, a significant result under Australia’s selection policy which favours those who achieve the standard more than once.
It may not guarantee selection for a second Olympic Games for Birmingham, but it is a strong argument, one to which he alluded in his post-race comments.
“Some of the selectors are down here,” Birmingham told the meeting announcer. “If they want to write my ticket out now, that’d be OK with me.” Indeed.
“I love coming down here, I’m going to keep coming back,” Birmingham added, though he didn’t really need to. His affection for Hobart’s Domain track is obvious.
A finalist in the Berlin 2009 World Championships 5000 metres, Birmingham has been oscillating between 5000 and 10,000 in recent years. But he is firmly in the shorter race now. He skipped last December’s Zatopek: Ten, the main selection race for Australia’s 10,000 metres hopefuls, in favour of prolonged work in an altitude house in Canberra and then further training at Falls Creek in Victoria’s High Plains.
“I’m very much looking forward to the London Olympic Games,” said Birmingham. “It’s such an important year, that’s why you need to do a lot of work in December and January.”
World record remembered
The Briggs Classic is named after former Athletics Australia president Graeme Briggs, and there is a fitting historical link with 5000 metres there. In 1965, Ron Clarke broke the World record for 5000 in Hobart. The indefatigable Briggs organised the meeting virtually single-handed – “he was even on the gate selling programs,” Clarke recalled once.
In fact, Briggs organised things so perfectly that Clarke was worried the World record might be disallowed. The North Hobart Oval, used for athletics then, sloped markedly from one side to the other and the canny Briggs saw to it that the 5000 went 13 times down the hill and only 12 times up it.
Not to worry, Clarke simply ran a couple of seconds faster in Auckland (NZL) a couple of weeks later as he started what remains one of the most famous years in track distance running.
Elsewhere in Hobart...
Henry Frayne in the Triple Jump and Lauren Boden in the 400 metres Hurdles each bettered the Olympic B-standard.
Frayne, jumping into a 1.6 metres per second headwind in his first Triple Jump competition of the season, reached 16.90 metres. He also produced further jumps of 16.78 and 16.73 in a solid series. He, too, has a liking for Hobart, as he jumped a then personal best 16.91 to win last year.
Boden, facing a likely meeting with two-time World champion Jana Pittman in Perth next Saturday, took advantage of the still conditions to record an easy win in the 400 hurdles in 56.07 seconds. It was her second time under the B-standard for the season, having recorded a 56.14 in Newcastle two weeks earlier.
American thrower Russ Winger continued his winning ways in Australia, this time taking the Shot Put with a best distance of 20.06m ahead of Dale Stevenson’s 19.42. Winger takes on Australia’s Daegu finalist Benn Harradine in the discus in Perth next week.
In a meeting with a high-quality junior component, eight athletes achieved qualifying standards for this year’s IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona. The eight were – Robert Johnston, Mikki Genge and Danielle McConnell (all Hammer Throw), Sarah Carli and Tessa Consedine (400m Hurdles), Jarryd Buchan (400 metres) and Luke Cann and Elliott Lang (Javelin Throw).
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Len Johnson for the IAAF