ASAFA: 'Rising To The Occasion'

Powell, Mottram, Pittman…head solid start list in Melbourne – IAAF World Athletics Tour PREVIEW
Wednesday 8 March 2006
Melbourne, Australia - Asafa Powell will have an honour escort of some of the world’s fastest men when he returns to 100m action on Thursday 9 March at the Telstra A-Series, the first leg of the IAAF World Athletics Tour 2006 at Olympic Park, Melbourne.

Rising to the occasion

Joshua Ross wins the men’s 100m at the 84th Australian Championships
(Getty Images)

Powell set the 100m World record of 9.77 last June but has not raced this distance since the London Grand Prix in July. He was injured at his Jamaican national titles and was forced out of the Helsinki world championships.

Shortly after the record run, Powell’s coach Stephen Francis predicted: “I don’t know how much faster Asafa can run because in sprinting, how fast you run depends on a lot of conditions, where you run, how humid it is, the wind, the competition, the adrenalin that is flowing and so on. So I can’t tell . . . But I know that he will run faster than 9.77 seconds this year.”

Of course injury curtailed his season, but not his ambition and in Melbourne Francis declared Powell to be fitter than ever before.

Craig Mottram of Australian
(Getty Images)

His name, Asafa, means “rising to the occasion”. Although he is in Melbourne primarily to compete in the 18th Commonwealth Games (March 15-26), his worthy opponents in tonight’s race will require him to step up a little earlier than that.

The field, to be divided into two heats, includes Darrel Brown and Marc Burns (both of Trinidad), Darren Campbell, Jason Gardener (both England), Uchenna Emedolou (Nigeria), Pierre Brown (Canada), Christian Malcolm (Wales), Kareem Streete-Thompson (Cayman Islands), fellow Jamaicans Michael Frater and Winston Smith, and Australians Ambrose Ezenwa, Adam Miller and Joshua Ross.

Ross is not overawed

Benita Johnson (AUS)
(Getty Images)

With Australian recordholder Patrick Johnson out with a cold, it falls to three-time national title winner Ross to uphold Australia’s hopes tonight and he refuses to be overawed by the prospect of racing the world’s fastest man.

“He is the world’s fastest man and could surprise us all or there could be an upset. You have to wait and see what happens,” said Ross, a semi-finalist at the Helsinki World Championships last summer.

"I don’t care if you’re the world’s fastest man or the slowest man in the world, I’m going to race it the way I always do and just worry about myself and do what I always do.

Jana Pittman wins her 400m heat at the 2006 Australian Champs
(Getty Images)

"I feel this is where I belong. Even at Athens (for the 2004 Olympic Games) looking around the crowd I felt a sense of belonging, like this is what I was born to do.

“I have not put together a good 100 all season, been missing the start and playing catch up. It’s been unlucky with the conditions. But I really know what kind of shape I’m in and if the conditions are right I know what I can come up with.”

Powell’s most recent race was as anchor of his club team 4x100m relay in Jamaica (25 Feb), coaching analysis of his split of 9.1sec taken despite a stuttering start suggesting he is capable of running 9.9sec right now.

Conditions for Melbourne this evening are 26C with little wind, although the direction at Olympic Park has not been predicted.

Mottram targets national record

If conditions are still, that will please the distance runners with Craig Mottram set to attempt to break Simon Doyle’s national record over 2000m.

Doyle, one of the fastest milers in the world in the early 1990s, set the 2000m mark at 5:00.84 in Sydney in 1994.

Mottram, the bronze medallist at 5000m in Helsinki, has been training in seclusion of late to avoid the attention which comes with being one of the host nation’s great hopes for Commonwealth Games medals on the track.

His main opponents appear to include England’s Nick McCormick, Finland’s 2003 World Steeplechase final 9th placer Jukka Keskisalo, and Reuben Kosgei, Kenya’s 2000 Olympic and 2001 World Championship steeplechase gold medallist.

Kosgei, like most other Kenyans, arrived in Melbourne on Tuesday via Bangkok and Sydney having departed Nairobi last Sunday so little could be asked of them so soon after such a lengthy journey.

However Kosgei happily offered: “It will be great running against the ‘big mazungo’. If I can run fast and help Craig Mottram get the Australian record I will be very happy - especially if I beat him.”

Jamieson, sore and out

Sarah Jamieson, who won last Friday night’s Telstra A-Series in the rain in Brisbane, has pulled up sore and has withdrawn from the women’s 3000m which features Australia’s 2003 World Cross Country champion Benita Johnson.

Johnson was mightily disappointed to learn that England’s Paula Radcliffe has withdrawn from the Games citing a bruised foot. But there is plenty of interest in Johnson’s form and that of her training squad member Sydney’s Eloise Wellings, who won the Australian 5000m championship last month.

New Zealand’s Kate McIlroy, who has stepped down to the track after winning last year’s World Mountain Running title, and the English stars Hayley Yelling and Joanna Pavey are in the 3000m field as is Australia’s exciting steeplechase queen, Melissa Rollison.

In-form Howe and Hooker to vault

West Australian Kym Howe returns to competition for the first time since wiping former World record holder Emma George’s name from the Australian record book with her 4.61m pole vault at the Telstra A-Series in Canberra in early February.

And in the men’s vault Steve Hooker, who cleared a world leading 5.91m in Melbourne last Saturday, is hoping to join West Australian rival Dmitri Markov as a member of the elite Six Metre Club.

“My 5.91 jump was good and I feel if maybe the bar had been at 6m when I jumped that, it would have been a clearance,” Hooker said.

“I didn’t have that many good clean jumps at 6m on Saturday when I attempted it. But I do feel like it’s a possibility and I’m in that kind of shape. It’s just a matter of putting it together on the day.”

Vili, the highlight of the throws

In the throws, New Zealand’s mighty Valeri Vili is entered for the shot put against a field including South Africans Simone Du Toit and Marlie Knoetze, while South Australia’s Brooke Krueger-Billett will be looking for another 70m performance in the women’s hammer throw.

New Zealand’s great 1500m prospect, Nick Willis, has put aside a three-day setback with a cold and will race the 800m against a field including young Kenyans John Litei and Cosmas Rono.

Pittman fine-tuning

And 2003 World 400m Hurdles champion Jana Pittman will have her final tune-up over 400m hurdles looking for a confidence-booster against England’s Nicola Sanders who is trying to sort out her stride pattern over the barriers. She was in touch with Pittman approaching hurdle five in Brisbane, but faltered there to finish far adrift.

Yet Sanders ran the flat 400m in 50.72sec last month in Sheffield, so if she can stay near Pittman at the 10th and final hurdle the last 40m run to the line could be a dramatic sprint.

Mike Hurst (Sydney Daily Telegraph) for the IAAF

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