David Oliver wins the 110m hurdles in Sydney (© Getty Images)
Three 2013 IAAF World Championships gold medallists competed at the Sydney Track Classic; David Oliver, Eunice Sum and LaShawn Merritt all won, and each of them impressively on Saturday (15).
However, it was a world champion from a slightly earlier vintage who produced the performance of the meeting, Berlin 2009 discus gold medallist Dani Samuels going beyond 65 metres for the second time in two weeks in her best start to a season since 2010.
A fierce thunderstorm lashed Sydney Olympic Park an hour or so before the meeting was due to start. The storm dumped a large amount of rain on the track and infield. Once it stopped, however, an energetic clean-up meant the meeting started just 10 minutes behind schedule.
Oliver got a drenching as he walked the few hundred metres from his Sydney Olympic Park hotel to the track, and was pressed by his Australian rivals over the first seven barriers, but was home and dry after 10 flights in the 110m hurdles in 13.38.
The affable US hurdler was pleased with his first race of the year over the full distance, saying he had time-trialled over the 110m hurdles in training but racing was a different matter.
“That’s a good springboard for 2014,” said Oliver modestly.
Australians Nick Hough and Sam Baines chased Oliver to personal bests of 13.65 and 13.69, respectively, with Baines showing the benefit of two sessions with Oliver during the week by matching him through the first half of the race.
Oliver said he was not conscious of the local competition. “I run in my own lane and try to run my own race.”
Sum-mer start for world champion
At least Oliver had a 60m hurdles race indoors in Birmingham in February as some sort of tune-up, but Eunice Sum was fronting up for her first race of the year.
The Kenyan faced a field that included Moscow 1500m finalist Zoe Buckman and 2013 World Championships representatives Kelly Hetherington and New Zealand's Angie Smit.
After a 59.70 first lap, however, Sum proved greater than the total of the parts arrayed against her. She never looked under threat as she crossed the line in 2:01.20.
Indeed, it was an emerging 18-year-old, Georgia Wassall, who had won her heat of the junior championship earlier in the day, who came through to take second place in 2:01.78 and establish her credentials as a legitimate medal contender at the forthcoming IAAF World Junior Championships this summer.
Smit and Hetherington were the next women home, with Buckman fading from a good position in the first lap to eighth.
Sum said she was pleased with her first-up effort and is looking forward to racing on the IAAF Diamond League circuit this year and at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Merritt switched to the 200m rather than his usual event, the 400m. “A half-day’s work instead of a full day’s work,” the track announcer joked, but it made no difference to the result.
He pulled well clear of New Zealand’s Joseph Millar in the last 50 metres to win, 20.42 to 20.81.
The US sprinter will be back to one lap of the track for the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Melbourne next Saturday, 22 March.
Samuels behind only Perkovic on world list
Two weeks ago, Dani Samuels briefly led the world discus list when she threw 65.59m at her New South Wales state championships. A few hours after that, she was well and truly in second place after world champion Sandra Perkovic threw a massive 70.51m in Split.
But Samuels is in her best early season form since 2010, the year after she became the youngest-ever world champion in her event in Berlin. Then, she threw the 65.84m which remains her best, before going into several years’ stagnation.
This year, there are positive signs the 25-year-old is about to break out of that mould.
At the Sydney Track Classic, she produced a 65.18m early in the competition, and had other throws of 63.41m, 62.56m and 61.20m. Not quite back on top, but perhaps back.
“I’m extremely happy with another throw like that (over 65 metres). I’ve only had a handful that big in my career so to be consistently around that mark in 2014 is very reassuring,” commented Samuels.
“I’m hoping it’s a sign of things to come in the coming weeks and into the European season. I haven’t had a personal best since 2010 so it would be great to throw something bigger than 65.84m soon.”
Mercy Cherono was silver medallist in the 5000m in Moscow, albeit just 0.03 behind the winner, Meseret Defar. However, in Sydney, she ran with all the authority of a champion in taking the women’s 5000m in an impressive and easy 15:04.07.
Olympic steeplechaser Genevieve LaCaze led for five laps at 15:25 pace before Eloise Wellings briefly took over. Cherono, however, was not about to let any of her rivals steal the initiative.
A lap later, she burst into the lead with six laps to run and a 68-second lap followed by one of 70 seconds put her 50 metres clear. She held that form to the line, finishing more than 100 metres clear of Madeleine Heiner (15:27.75).
A week after losing her world indoor 60m hurdles title, Sally Pearson bounced back with a sprint double, defeating national record-holder Melissa Breen in the 100m, 11.29 to 11.40, and Ella Nelson in the 200m, 23.23 to 23.26.
In the latter event, she had to work hard to hold off the fast-charging Nelson.
“I could hear that announcer saying, ‘she’s coming’,” Pearson said, “(and) I felt like I had 10 bricks on each leg.”
Natasha Hastings and Duane Solomon produced two more wins for the contingent of US visitors, Hastings taking the women’s 400m in 52.01 and Solomon winning the men’s 800m from Alex Rowe, 1:45.95 to 1:46.22.
James Magut added another win for Kenya, taking the men’s 1500m from Jeff Riseley, 3:38.58 to 3:38.90.
Len Johnson for the IAAF