Hurdle greats for Oz

Wednesday, 11 February 2009 Olympic medallists Oliver and Jackson to compete down under

Three of the world’s greatest hurdlers will compete in the Sydney Track Classic on February 28 and Australia’s best are scurrying to get ready.

Athletics Australia announced yesterday that 2005 World champion Bershawn Jackson of the US and reigning Commonwealth champion LJ Van Zyl of South Africa will compete at Homebush in the 400m Hurdles.

And the massively-framed American David Oliver, bronze medallist at the Beijing Olympics, will race in the 110m Hurdles.

It’s great recruiting by AA agent Maurie Plant with Tasmania’s Tristan Thomas emerging as a 400m Hurdler worth investing in and promoting.

Thomas sprinted 400m in 45.8sec last month but will probably run only the 400m Hurdles at the NSW Championships at Homebush this weekend, although he is entered for both races.

Van Zyl also ran a 400m sprint best of 45.82 in Tshwane, Pretoria on January 30, although he managed only 50.03sec over the hurdles in Durban on February 6.

But in Beijing last year Jackson took bronze in America’s medals sweep while Van Zyl placed a close fifth.

“As a developing athlete it’s great to be around people that are faster than you are,’’ Thomas, 22, said yesterday. “It gives you an opportunity to get better and achieve.

“By running against a World champion and Commonwealth Games champion, it will be great to have the added hype and nerves. Jackson has the potential to do anything and LJ is always in shape and finishes really hard.

“I’m hoping the A-qualifier [time of 49.25sec] for Berlin [IAAF World Championships in August] will come in the next few weeks so it will relieve a bit of pressure and give me some added confidence ahead of Sydney and the World Athletics Tour in Melbourne [on March 5].”

Sydney’s Justin Merlino, 23, is training well and should win the NSW title this weekend, although he only resumed hurdles training in November after eight weeks sidelined with a stress reaction of his fifth lumbar vertebra.

The two-time national champion, Merlino clocked 13.55sec last year which was an Olympic B-qualifying time but selectors left him at home.

That same time is now an A-qualifier for the IAAF World Championships in Berlin, but his coach Fira Dvoskina estimates due to his injury setback he may only be in 13.9sec shape over the barriers.

“I am happy the guy is coming. We can learn what the Americans are doing,” Dvoskina said.

Oliver, fresh from his equal World leading 60m indoor time of 7.45sec in Stuttgart on February 7, has run 12.95 over the classic 110m distance - equal 10th fastest ever.

Mike Hurst (Sydney Daily Telegraph) for the IAAF