David Rudisha holds off Jeff Riseley to win the 800m in Melbourne (© Getty Images)
Olympic champions are champions for a reason: they are hard to beat.
David Rudisha showed his class with his second win over 800m in two Australian races, the Olympic champion finding a little bit extra along the straight just when it seemed Jeff Riseley might pull off an upset at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Melbourne on Saturday (21).
Sally Pearson won the 100m hurdles, despite being unhappy about a late switch of her race from the back straight to the main straight. “It’s so far from where I want to be,” said the Olympic champion, referring to her performance rather than the change of direction.
World youth discus champion Matt Denny does not turn 19 until the middle of the year. But he continued his rapid development with a win in the opening round of the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge with an Australian junior record of 69.70m.
There was also a titanic battle in the women’s javelin as South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen produced a throw of 66.62m to narrowly defeat Kim Mickle’s 66.57m. Both women were close to the meeting record of 66.83m produced by Mickle last year.
The javelin was not the only throws highlight; New Zealand’s Tom Walsh produced an Oceanian record of 21.37m to win the men’s shot put.
Rudisha sees off Riseley’s challenge
Rudisha maintained his undefeated record over 800m in Australia after victory in Sydney a week earlier in 1:45.01, but the world record-holder did not have it all his own way.
Alex Rowe clung to his heels for 600m before the co-Australian record-holder gave way. Then Riseley pushed past Rowe and took some ground out of the great man around the final bend. Just as it seemed his momentum would carry him on to Rudisha’s shoulder, however, the Olympic champion found another gear to win comfortably enough, 1:44.94 to 1:45.29.
“I knew I was there,” Rudisha said of Riseley’s charge. “I had a bit more to give.”
Riseley, for his part, said he was motivated by his loss to Ryan Gregson over 1500m in Sydney the week before, a race he had led from 600 metres out.
“I had a crack today,” Riseley said after recording his fastest time since 2012. “I was pretty surprised I was close to him with 100 to go. He saw me though, and he had another level he could go to.”
Hurdles switch riles Pearson
Pearson won the hurdles in a time of 12.93 (0.3m/s), slower than her season-opener of 12.74 in Brisbane two weeks ago. Officials had agreed to run the straight sprints down the stadium back-straight but could not follow through on the decision due to a timing technical fault.
Pearson was not happy about the late change but conceded it was out of her control. It scarcely mattered to the crowd at Lakeside Stadium, however, her win being easily the most popular of the evening.
Panama’s 2009 world silver medallist Alonso Edward won the 200m in 20.65, good running in the cool conditions. The race was named in honour of 1968 Olympic silver medallist, the late Peter Norman. Edward was presented with a framed copy of the photograph of Norman on the podium alongside the winner, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos.
Viljoen, Walsh and Mickle lead throws
Tom Walsh loves competing in Melbourne. The Kiwi thrower won at the Zatopek meeting two years ago with a national record of 20.61m, won in Melbourne last year and now he produced another 21.37m area record to win again this year.
Improving young Australian Damien Birkinhead improved to 20.23m in second place.
Walsh was not impressed with his own early efforts. “I was just missing, the timing was slightly off.
“But I knew it was there if I nailed one. I told myself it was my last throw of the Australia-New Zealand season and I knew it was a good one out of the hand.”
Mickle said she had not lost in Australia for seven years, and the women’s javelin was a near-run thing this time.
Viljoen took the lead early with her 66.62m effort in the second round. Mickle followed with her 66.57m in the third and then produced another big throw of 64.45m in the last round. But it was not quite enough to win a high-class competition.
Behind the top pair, Chinese record-holder Li Huihui took third with 64.59m and Kelsey-Lee Roberts was fourth with 62.22m.
There were also performances in depth in the women’s 3000m steeplechase with Madeleine Heiner breaking away mid-race to win in a world-leading 9:31.03 – the fastest by an Australian for seven years. Kenya’s Magdalene Masai was second in 9:38.17, finishing ahead of Victoria Mitchell (9:39.78) and Rosa Flanagan, who set a New Zealand junior record of 9:41.42.
Alana Boyd produced her best performance of the year to win the pole vault with 4.50m as rising young teenager Nina Kennedy – 4.59m this year – failed at her opening height. Melissa Gergel of the USA was second with 4.32m.
And Brett Robinson will head off to next week’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships with a distance double under his belt. He won the 5000m in 13:32.54, adding the national title at that distance to the 10,000m title he won at the Zatopek meeting last December.
Len Johnson for the IAAF