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Young stars soar at athletics nationals

15 April 2013

ATHLETICS: The National Championships concluded on Sunday with numerous outstanding performances and emotion charged results to round-out the 2012/2013 domestic season. 

While Olympic medallists Sally Pearson and Mitchell Watt where on the sidelines with injuries there were plenty of young athletes able to lift and demonstrate encouraging signs for the future of the sport.

Over four days of competition in top conditions at Sydney Olympic Park, World Championship qualifiers were the target. Here is a wrap of the highlights.

London Olympian Julian Wruck made a successful flying visit to Australia to smash his personal best in the men’s discus with 66.32m - the biggest throw in the world this year. 

Wruck, 21, who is doing a double major in philosophy and psychology at UCLA in California, only arrived in Australia on Friday and headed straight back to the United States on Sunday. 

"That's three weeks in a row I've gone over 66 metres, which is about as good as I've ever thrown," said Wruck, who was eliminated in the qualifying round at the London Olympics. 

"This time of the season I was planning on being at the 64m level, I'm two metres ahead of where I wanted to be, so I think in the next few years I can throw really big."

Also on Saturday night Brandon Starc smashed his personal best in the men’s high jump and guaranteed his spot in the senior world championship team. He is Australia's first senior male high jump representative since Tim Forsyth at the 1997 world titles.

Starc, the younger brother of Australian Test cricketer Mitchell Starc, added 5cm to his personal best to win a first national title with 2.28m. Starc won a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 and was a finalist at the World Junior Championships in 2012.

In the men’s 5000m, 21-year-old Cameron Page (13:29.45) remarkably dropped 24 seconds off his personal best to beat London Olympian Ben St Lawrence (13:30.37) in a sprint finish. Both athletes broke the national meet record set back in 1992 by then Commonwealth Champion Andrew Lloyd. The young NSW runner is unknown to most. After some good results as a junior he demonstrated what he is capable of as a senior if he can stay healthy.

Kelly Hetherington’s win in the women’s 800m on Sunday evening not only delivered her the elusive world championship qualifying mark it was an emotional tribute to her late coach Maxine Corcoran. 

Hetherington had been chasing the qualifying mark of two minutes 01.50 seconds for more than a year and finally got the job done with a personal best time of 2:01.22 following a gutsy display of front-running. 

The Victorian runner's world was turned upside down in November 2011 when Corcoran died suddenly from a brain tumour. Three months later, Hetherington was struck down with a bacterial infection which caused paralysis. 

After recovering from the illness, she turned to former Athletics Australia CEO Danny Corcoran, who agreed to take over as her coach as a legacy to his wife. 

"This one is very much for Maxine," said the 23-year-old Hetherington. “It's been a tough battle but now that I've got it I know she's up there and just so proud.”

Josh Ross, 31, completed the men’s 100m-200m national sprint double for the second time with victory in the half-lap race on Sunday. And the time of 20.57 was good enough to guarantee him an individual run in Moscow.

The reigning 200m champion, who won the 100m for the seventh time on Saturday (10.34) had to fight all the way against a crop of young fliers. He broke away in the closing stages to win in a B-Qualifying time of 20.57 (w: -1.5), with Nicholas Hough (NSW, second, 20.66), Nicholas Boylett (Qld, third, 20.67) and Craig Burns (Qld, fourth, 20.76) all setting personal bests behind him.

There will be plenty of young faces in the Moscow relay teams. Tim Leathart (NSW, 10.40) and Jarrod Geddes (NSW, 10.43) are two outstanding young talents who will make their IAAF World Championships debut in the 4x100m relay after placing 2nd and 3rd best Australians in the 100m final. 

In the women’s 200m, IAAF World Junior Championships representative Monica Brennan (Vic) won her maiden Australian open age crown in a career record 23.41 (w: +0.0), with Toea Wisil (Qld, second, 23.70) and Kendra Hubbard (Vic, third, 23.81) behind her. In the 100m on Saturday, Wisil from Papua New Guinea won the women's 100m in a personal best of 11.49s. She held off young Victorian Ashleigh Whittaker who ran brilliantly for second (11.53s, +1.1).

Flying the flag for the Australian Institute of Sport, Lauren Boden and Tristan Thomas will be automatically selected to compete in the 400m hurdles at the IAAF World Championships thanks to their victories in the men’s and women’s 400m hurdles respectively. Achieving her first B-Qualifier in the heat on Friday, Boden’s performance of 56.47 in the final adds a second qualifier to her resume from this domestic season and a seventh national title to her impressive trophy cabinet. She was a semi-finalist at the London Olympics as was Thomas.

Thomas’ time of 49.68 ensures his selection after he ran 49.60 to record his first IAAF World Championships B-Qualifier at the Qantas Melbourne World Challenge last week. Second placed to Ian Dewhurst (NSW, second, 49.93) coming over the last hurdles, Thomas surged to the line to win his fourth Australian Championship gold medal.

Other London Olympians to perform well and secure their automatic selection for the world titles were 2012 Olympic finalist Kim Mickle in the women’s javelin with a great series of throws and an A-qualifier of 62.26m. Commonwealth champion and Olympic finalist Alana Boyd cleared 4.30m to win the women’s pole vault and in the women’s 1500m Zoe Buckman (4:09.79) ran away from the field including fellow Olympic semi-finalist Kaila Mcknight who was third.

Unrivalled in the men’s long jump with Mitchell Watt and Henry Frayne injured, Fabrice Lapierre (NSW) has added a fourth national title to his trophy cabinet, with his fifth round leap of 8.00m (w: +0.0). The Commonwealth Champion, who is based in the United States, was pleased to get the big win so early in his season. 

“It’s still early days for me, I am trying to find my rhythm, and the 8 metre mark is a good result. I am improving with every competition, there are a few things today that I can take away and work on, but I’m building in confidence,” Lapierre said. “I’m headed back to the States later this week and from there I will build to some European meets from late May and onwards. The national title today was important on that road though, because it means that if Mitch jumps the A-Qualifier I only need the B, or if I jump that A-Qual, which I think I am capable of, I am automatic too.”

In the men’s 400m, IAAF World Junior Championships representative Alex Beck (Qld) crossed first in a season best 46.18 to secure the first spot, with London Olympian Ben Offereins (WA, third, second Australian, 46.33) and Joshua Ralph (NSW, fourth, third Australian, 46.34) set to named in the 4x400m relay team for Moscow. Injured London Olympic finalist Steven Solomon has been pre-selected for the World Championships so did not travel from the USA to Australia for the meet.

Australia is likely to take a team of more than 50 athletes to Moscow for the World Championships in August, with a provisional squad to be named on Wednesday.

AOC with Athletics Australia and AAP

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