Jana Pittman Returns

Jana’s double shot


January 24, 2006

JANA Pittman makes her return to grand prix racing in Canberra on Thursday still undecided about whether to try for the 400m sprint as well as 400m hurdles at the Commonwealth Games.

The decision by world and Olympic 400m champion Tonique Williams-Darling of the Bahamas to skip the Melbourne Games may now encourage Pittman to go for the double.

No one has won the long sprint-hurdles double since Pittman’s former mentor, Debbie Flintoff-King, at the Edinburgh Games 20 years ago.

There would be no second-guessing if Pittman was in the form she displayed in 2003 when she became the youngest woman to win the world 400m hurdles title and hurried Cathy Freeman into retirement by humiliating the Olympic champion with a sprint victory in 50.43sec.

But she comes into the Canberra A-series after a stress fracture in her spine prevented her defending the world title.

Reports of her training suggest she currently has a huge reservoir of endurance but not the quality of speed to indicate she could sprint far under 51sec any time soon.

Pittman will run over the hurdles on Thursday and could probably win that race at the Games off strength alone.

But the 400m flat is an unknown proposition at the Games. Freeman set a Games record of 50.38sec winning at Victoria in 1994. Then Sandie Richards lowered that to 50.18sec winning in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

But when fellow Jamaican Lorraine Fenton pulled out of the last Games in Manchester despite being the world’s second fastest at 49.30sec in 2002, the title was won in only 51.63sec when Aliann Pompey became Guyana’s first gold medallist since Phil Edwards won the 880 yards in 1934.

So Pittman’s best course of action appears to be to contest both 400m and 400m hurdles at the Australian Championships in Sydney from February 2-5 at Homebush.

Then she can decide, based on her own rising form and the likely opposition. Even without Williams-Darling, 15 women ran under 52sec on last year’s Commonwealth rankings, including five under 51sec.

The Canberra series opener is full of interest, especially in the men’s sprints where NSW title winner Patrick Johnson will take on training partner Daniel Batman, Ambrose Ezenwa, Josh Ross, Kris Neofytu and Adam Miller in the best domestic 200m assembled in decades.

HOCKEYROOS midfielder Donna-Lee Patrick has been ruled out of the Commonwealth Games after being sent for surgery on her troublesome knee.