David Rudisha wins in Melbourne (© Getty Images)
If it’s March and it’s Melbourne, notable visitors to Australia’s sporting capital are likely to find themselves posed alongside one of two props – a Formula 1 racer or an Australian Rules footballer.
Olympic 800m champion and world record-holder David Rudisha avoided the first option by being in Sydney while the Australian F1 Grand Prix was staged on the Albert Park circuit a week ago, but he was a subject for the second this week when photographed on Melbourne’s iconic Tan Track alongside Isaac Smith, a member of the Hawthorn Football Club’s 2014 premiership-winning team.
Aussie rules football rules Melbourne’s winter months, but Smith was under no illusions about his chances of keeping up with the world record-holder once he flicked the switch to serious. “I don’t think I could stick with him for very long.”
David Rudisha rules 800m running, and he will be back to what he does best in the 800m at the Melbourne IAAF World Challenge meeting on Saturday night (21).
Rudisha is one of two Olympic champions competing in the opening leg of the 2015 IAAF World Challenge series. The other is 100m hurdles champion Sally Pearson.
It will be Rudisha’s fourth appearance at the Melbourne meeting where he has produced three outstanding runs, topped by a 1:43.15 on his first visit in 2010.
Melbourne will mark the beginning of the sixth edition of the IAAF World Challenge, with the series continuing through every IAAF area to its conclusion in Rieti on 13 September.
Of the many outstanding performances in last year’s series, none could top the 79.58m world record in the women’s hammer throw from Anita Wlodarczyk in Berlin.
In an outstanding year for the high jump, Bogdan Bondarenko got the first of his five 2014 outdoor clearances at 2.40m or higher when he defeated Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov at the Tokyo World Challenge meeting.
Other highlights of the 2014 World Challenge season included Xue Changrui winning the pole vault in Beijing at 5.80m, one of four home victories watched by more than 40,000 fans in the Bird’s Nest stadium. Teenager Wang Jianan, just 17, won the long jump with 8.09m.
Berlin brought not only Wlodarczyk’s world record, but also the farewell appearance for Lithuania’s double world and Olympic discus champion Virgilijus Alekna.
Silas Kiplagat won the Rieti 1500m for the third successive occasion in 3:31.44 as the series wound down to a close.
Rudisha, Pearson, Mickle and Walsh set to star in Melbourne
Rudisha naturally tops the bill in the distances. Without a warm-up race this year, the Kenyan star won in Sydney last Saturday in 1:45.01. Alex Rowe, who equalled Ralph Doubell’s long-standing national record last year, tied up trying to cling to the heels of the great man. Both may be in a more relaxed frame of mind in Melbourne; Rudisha has his first race out of the way, Rowe his first attempt at racing him.
Added to the mix for Melbourne are Jeff Riseley, who ran the 1500m in Sydney, and last year’s Australian champion Joshua Ralph.
Kim Mickle produced one of the highlights of the 2014 Melbourne meeting with a national record in the women’s javelin. Mickle has competed only sparingly this season due to a nagging achilles tendon injury, but that competition produced a win over Kathryn Mitchell, Kelsey-Lee Roberts and China’s Li Lingwei.
All four are in the Melbourne field along with South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen, Li Zhang of China and Leigh Petranoff of the USA. It may take something approaching Mickle’s meeting, and Australian, record of 66.83m to win.
Pearson will come back to her flagship 100m hurdles event off a rare, not to say surprising, domestic loss over 200m last weekend to Ella Nelson and Melissa Breen. Having opened her hurdles season a week before that with 12.74 in Brisbane, could this provide the spur to see her somewhere near her meeting record 12.49.
Panama’s Alonso Edward, silver medallist in the 2009 World Championships 200m, won over 100m in Sydney but returns to his favoured distance in Melbourne.
Tom Walsh of New Zealand, another regular visitor to Melbourne, heads the men’s shot put field with strongest opposition likely to come from improving youngster Damien Birkinhead. Julian Wruck will compete in both this event and his more favoured discus.
Pick of the men’s field events looks to be the long jump in which Henry Frayne will have his first competition of the season up against Fabrice Lapierre, who jumped 8.05m indoors last month, and Robbie Crowther, who leads the Australian list with a wind-assisted 8.03m.
The men’s 5000m will serve as the Australian national title as the full championships clash with the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Brett Robinson has been the form athlete of the domestic season on the track. He faces opposition from New Zealand’s Jake Robertson, Jeff See of the US and local rivals including Ben St Lawrence and David McNeill.
A small, but classy, field will contest the women’s 3000m steeplechase. Magdalene Masai out-ran Madeleine Heiner at the end of the 5000m in Sydney, now both meet again over the barriers. Victoria Mitchell and New Zealand’s Rosa Flanagan complete the field.
Molly Beckwith of the US and world finalist Zoe Buckman sit atop a women’s 1500m field which also includes Susan Kuijken of the Netherlands, Genevieve LaCaze, Heidi See and Angela Petty (nee Smit) of New Zealand.
Emerging youngster Nina Kennedy, 17, has been sweeping all before her in the pole vault. She cleared 4.59m in Perth a month ago to set an outdoor world junior best and just missed 4.64m at the junior championships in Sydney a week ago after winning with 4.50m.
In Melbourne, Kennedy will again meet Australian record-holder Alana Boyd as well as US vaulter Melissa Gergel who has gone over 4.53m indoors this year.
Len Johnson for the IAAF