Canberra A-series Preview 26Jan06

Pittman prepares for 400m Hurdles comeback in Canberra
Wednesday 25 January 2006
Jana Pittman returns to competition in the 400m Hurdles in Canberra, Australia, tomorrow (26 Jan) at the first Telstra A-series meeting of the 2006 season. A stress fracture in her spine forced her to abandon the defence of her World title in Helsinki last summer, and she last raced on 8 July 2005 in Rome.

A flat/hurdles Commonwealth double campaign?

The youngest woman ever to win the World Championship 400m Hurdles title when taking the gold medal in 2003 in Paris, Pittman has taken her time recovering and has laid an extensive endurance base in training. How well she performs in this comeback to grand prix racing will go some way to helping her decide whether to contest the 400m as well as 400m Hurdles (and 4x400m relay) at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March.

Pittman’s former mentor, the Seoul Olympic champion Debbie Flintoff-King was the last woman to win the 400m sprint-hurdles double 20-years-ago at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland, and there has been a rumour that World and Olympic 400m champion Tonique Williams-Darling of the Bahamas might be considering skipping the Games wheich would obvious encourage Pittman to attempt the double. But of course there are five other women from Commonwealth nations other than Williams-Darling who ran under 51seconds last year.

Pittman’s best 400m sprint time is the 50.43 she clocked in Sydney in early 2003 when she inflicted a heavy defeat on Cathy Freeman and hastened the Sydney Olympic queen’s decision to retire a few months later. However, Pittman’s present sprint form is as big a mystery as the 400m event at the Games itself.

Freeman set a Games record of 50.38 winning at Victoria, Canada, in 1994 . Then Jamaica’s Sandie Richards lowered the record to 50.18 winning in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. However when Jamaican Lorraine Fenton missed the previous Games in Manchester despite being the world’s second fastest at 49.30 in 2002, the title was won in 51.63 when Aliann Pompey became Guyana’s first gold medallist since Phil Edwards won the 880y in 1934.

Pittman’s most immediate decision will be whether to contest the 400m and 400m Hurdles at the Telstra Australian Championships which double as the major selection trial in Sydney from 2 - 5 February at Homebush. Then she can choose, based on her own rising form and the likely opposition after checking Games entries which close soon thereafter.

Markov back into action too

The Canberra meet tomorrow will also see the return to action of another World title winner in Dmitri Markov, who broke Sergey Bubka’s Pole Vault championship best in 2001 at Edmonton. Markov is keen to regain the form which made him a member of the very exclusive 6-metre club.

Fellow West Australian, the 1996 World Junior champion Paul “Budgie” Burgess is another hoping to fly high again. Burgess cleared 6m in Australia at this time last year but a calf muscle tear a week before Helsinki destroyed his dreams of a World title. Burgess has now made a good recovery and cleared 5.85m in Perth last weekend. The third man in Australia’s powerful vaulting stable is Melbourne’s Steve Hooker, whose best of 5.87m is also world class.

Grigorieva hoping to fly high again thanks to Petrov’s advice

The women’s Pole Vault also has much to recommend it with Sydney Olympics silver medallist Tatiana Grigorieva having returned recently from three months training with Russia’s World record holder Yelena Isinbayeva under the coaching of Bubka’s former mentor Vitaliy Petrov. Grigorieva will be under pressure from Kym Howe, who cleared a 4.50m last weekend in Perth where she trains with Burgess under coach Alex Parnov.

Alana Boyd, another emerging vault talent, will also compete in Canberra. She is the daughter of 1982 Commonwealth Games vault gold medallist Ray Boyd and two-time Olympic 200m finalist Denise Boyd.

Sprinting fortunes are strong

Australia’s male sprint stocks have rarely if ever been stronger than at present and with hot weather forecast for Canberra, the 100m in particular could see Patrick Johnson approach his seering 2003 form.

Johnson holds the Australian record at 9.93 and was a 200m finalist in Helsinki. He takes on national 100m titleholder and Helsinki semi-finalist Joshua Ross, as well as Daniel Batman, Adam Miller, Ambrose Ezenwa and Kris Neofytou in both 100m and 200m races in Canberra.

The giant Queenslander Justin Anlezark, fourth at the Paris world championships, competes in the Shot Put and is closing on the 20m line after recovering from torn finger ligaments sustained during the Athens Olympic final.

Mike Hurst (Daily and Sunday Telegraph) for the IAAF

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