Aussie Champs Day#3 - 4Feb06- Steffensen wins 400 showdown

Steffensen wins 400m showdown - Australian Champs, Day 3

Saturday 4 February 2006
Sydney, Australia - Showing the ringcraft he displayed as a “golden gloves” state boxing champion in Western Australia before concentrating on athletics, John Steffensen stalked his main rival and delivered a knockout blow on the third day of the 84th Telstra Australian Championships at Sydney Olympic Park.

2nd PB for Steffensen in as many days

Jane Saville winning the 2006 Australian Championships
(Getty Images)

Blessed to be allocated lane five, with a view of the three-times national 400m champion Clinton Hill in six, Steffensen took the fight up to the titleholder just before halfway and sustained a pulverising attack through the third 100m and into the home straight.

Hill, who so brilliantly anchored the Australian “silver bullets” to finish second to the US in the Athens Olympic 4x400m Relay, is normally an excellent finisher but on this occasion he was unable to respond to Steffensen’s assault.

Steffensen, a finalist at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, ran his second personal best time on consecutive days to win the final in 45.14 from Hill’s 45.54 with young Victorian Sean Wroe getting the verdict for third in 46.19 by 0.002 from another Olympic silver medallist in South Australian Mark Ormrod, who was also given a time of 46.19.

Nathan Deakes winning the 2006 Australian Championships
(Getty Images)

“I had a game plan and I believed in myself,” Steffensen said. “I hit the 200m and thought ‘this is yours baby’.”

Steffensen has plenty of ability. He also has unbridled ambition as evidenced by his declaration coming into the nationals that he wants to be “the next Cathy Freeman.”

Well, the Sydney Olympic 400m gold medallist sought advice from many great coaches, not least of whom was American John Smith, so perhaps it was inevitable that Steffensen - of South African background - would seek out the man who coached Marie-Jose Perec to beat Freeman in Atlanta.

Tatiana Grigorieva (AUS)
(Getty Images)

“I feel my path has been already told and I’m just waiting to see it unfold,” Steffensen said.

The national championships double as the major selection trial for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne next month and Steffensen, if not also Hill, look in line to become the first Australians to win a 400m medal at the Commonwealth Games since Darren Clark ran 44.60 in his fourth 400m race in 28 hours to win gold at Auckland in 1990.

Clark, now a father of six, came from Bathurst to Sydney especially to work with Steffensen on January 26, the day when Hill clocked a personal best 45.06 to defeat all the other Games team contenders in the Canberra Telstra A-series meet.

Steffensen was criticised in absentia by a former chairman of national selectors commenting during the television coverage of the Canberra race as “possibly having made a mistake” in missing the big race. But the national title is even bigger and Steffensen’s performance mistake-free.

Commonwealth Games B-standard for O’Sullivan

The 1995 World Champion and Sydney Olympic silver medallist at 5000m when she represented her native Ireland, Sonia O’Sullivan celebrated her Australian citizenship by running second in the 5000m trial clocking 15:44.24 to meet Athletics Australia’s Commonwealth Games B-standard.

O’Sullivan finished the length of the straight behind Sydney’s Eloise Wellings (15:28.72) who is coached by O’Sullivan’s partner, Nic Bideau. He never lost faith in Wellings, who qualified for the Sydney Olympics six years ago but could not compete. She was forced out of serious running over a few years for health reasons but she looked superb yesterday.

Last week O’Sullivan received her new citizenship papers from the Victorian Governor - and history’s second sub-four miler - John Landy.

She will have to wait upon the selectors’ discretion but the 36-year-old mother of two looks set to race the 5000m in Melbourne, despite making a late rush to convert her training from marathon mileage to the track.

“I know I can improve a lot in a month when I really focus on the track, if I can get on the team. Hopefully I have done enough,” O’Sullivan said.

While encouraging teen aged niece, Grigorieva wins fourth title

Tatiana Grigorieva said she felt like she was “competing for two of us” as she encouraged her 15-year-old niece, Vicky Parnov, to clear the Games A-standard and a personal best 4.30m in the pole vault.

Regaining the national crown for the first time since 2002 - the year she won gold at the Manchester Commonwealth Games - Grigorieva collected her fourth title with a first-time clearance of 4.45m in mild conditions spoiled only slightly by a fluctuating but light breeze.

The schoolgirl and her aunt held hands and bowed to the substantial crowd after clinching selection, along with Kym Howe, who set a Commonwealth and Australian record of 4.61m in Canberra. Howe was given dispensation from the nationals to rest a slightly strained shoulder.

Howe is coached by Vicky Parnov’s father, Alex, who is married to the sister of one of his former proteges, Viktor Chistiakov who was formerly married to Grigorieva. It could hardly be a more family-oriented sporting environment.

Vicky took up vaulting after seeing her aunt win the silver medal at the Sydney Olympics six years ago. At 15 years and 150 days at the time of the Games, she will be the second youngest Australian ever to enter Commonwealth competition after Sydney high jumper Debbie McCawley who competed at the 1974 Christchurch Games.

“I wasn’t confident, I didn’t think I would make the team but I am happy now,” Vicky Parnov said. “I have never been in a team with her (Grigorieva) before, it should be fun.”

Grigorieva, who has just returned from a three-month training period in Europe, is no longer coached by Alex Parnov, but she has a strong bond with his Russia-born daughter.

“It’s beautiful, we’ve been waiting for a season like that from her and it’s just amazing. Two generations of pole vaulters jumping at the same time and I’m very proud of her - she made the team,” Grigorieva said.

“I was nervous for her. I am trying to prepare and concentrate only on myself but it is hard when you have got a family member and she is very young. I felt like I was competing for two of us, I was keeping an eye on her and her jumps. I was trying to encourage her as much as I could.”

Solid outings for Deakes and Saville

The Athens Olympic bronze medallists Nathan Deakes and Jane Saville won the Australian 20km walk titles and established themselves favourites to add Commonwealth gold medals to those they won at the distance in Manchester in 2002.

Despite a recent knee and calf injury resulting from a fall on a rocky pathway, Deakes won in 1:22:13 from Luke Adams (1:23:09) and Jared Tallent (1:25:23).

“I wanted to prove a few things to a few people. There have been a few quotes about who is the top athlete in Australia,” Deakes said.

“I think that I showed last year was a very good year for me, but unfortunately I didn’t get through to the world championships which put a big downer on it. But I wanted to show that I’m back in town and really looking forward to the Melbourne Games.”

Saville won her sixth title in 1:33:19 from her younger sister Natalie (1:35:25) and Cheryl Webb (1:35:59). “I was pretty happy, it was a good hit-out,” the winner said.

Queensland police officer Joanne Nixon, formerly Stone, the 1997 Athens World Championships javelin silver medallist, came out of retirement enforced due to neck and shoulder injuries, to take third in the national trial with 53.97m. The contest was won by West Australian Kimberley Mickle (58.56m) from Victoria’s Rosie Hooper (56.09m)

Another Athens World Championship star, discus gold medallist New Zealander Beatrice Faumuina, won the Australian final with a 60.30m throw from Sydney’s 17-year-old Marrakesh World Youth Champion Dani Samuels (56.67m), Queenslander Monique Nacsa (52.71m) and the Cook Islander Tereapii Tapoki (51.36m) ands Tongan Melehifo Uhi (49.81m).

Kyle Vander-Kuyp won his 12th national 110m Hurdles title in 14.23 (headwind 1.5m/s) behind visiting New Zealander James Mortimer (14.09). Sydney chartered accountant Greg Eyears had been unbeaten this season until yesterday when he placed sixth in the final in 14.49.

Still in all, it wasn’t a bad effort by Eyears considering he needed emergency surgery to remove his appendix only two weekends ago and he was not supposed to resume even gentle exercise until this week.

Former Algerian World Junior representative Youcef Abdi ran superbly to win the 3000m steeplechase in 8:27.60 from Martin Dent (8:29.98) and Peter Nowill (8:39.50). Abdi won the 1500m bronze medal at the Manchester Games.

In the absence of 2003 World Championship winner Jana Pittman, the Australian 400m hurdles was won by Victoria’s little Sonia Brito in 56.94sec. Pittman was exempted from the trial after running two seconds faster than this in Canberra.

But after her self-destruction to place eighth and last in the 400m flat final a day earlier, Pittman visited a doctor to have blood tests to see if she her form may be explained by a virus. She expects the results in two days time.

Mike Hurst for the IAAF