Melbourne GP preview

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 5000m the focus, while Wariner confident for 400m in Melbourne - IAAF World Athletics Tour

Craig Mottram winning at the 2006 IAAF WAT meeting in Melbourne (Getty Images)

Melbourne, Australia – Brilliant Ethiopian teenage distance runner Abreham Cherkos Feleke checked into his Australian hotel only at 4am on Wednesday but his manager at least believes he will give home town hero Craig Mottram a great race over 5000m in the Melbourne Grand Prix when the World Athletics Tour of 2008 resumes on Thursday (21) evening.

“He can trouble Mottram, yes, absolutely,” said Italian Federico Rosa. “They have the same time, more or less, at 5000m.”

Focus on the men’s 5000m

In fact the 2005 World Youth champion has a slightly faster time at 12:54.19 which he ran while still aged just 16 for fifth in Rome. Mottram’s Oceania Area record is the 12:55.76 he ran in London in 2004.

The weather forecast for Melbourne is a maximum of 22C, occasional showers and still conditions – not great for the crowd but quite suitable for a good 5000m and Mottram is certainly in shape to deliver something special.

Three weeks ago he broke his own Australian indoor 3000m record and clocked the quickest indoor time in US history when he won in Boston in 7:34.50, crushing some respected names in the process.

Mottram, 27, expressed disappointment at news that the Ethiopian Federation had prevented Tariku Bekele boarding a plane to Melbourne, ordering him to prepare for the World Indoor championships in Valencia, 7-9 March.

However Feleke, 18, was already in the air and even upon arrival in Australia had yet to be informed of his Federation’s wishes following their decision to add him to Ethiopia’s indoor team as a late replacement for Kenenisa Bekele.

So instead he will take his chances against Mottram and a number of well performed – and well rested – Tanzanian and Kenyan runners as well as local stars, including marathoner Lee Troop, who once held the Australian 5000m record, and Collis Birmingham, who won the Zatopek 10,000m in December and last weekend ran 3:37.88 for 1500m nearly stealing victory in the Sydney Grand Prix.

Feleke though has the hallmark of a future world-beater, having run second to Tariku Bekele in last year’s Beijing World Junior championship 5000m and third in the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart.

On 2 February this year Feleke returned to Stuttgart to open his indoor account with 7:38.03 for second, again to Tariku Bekele’s world indoor leading 7:31.09.

The 5000m will be the last event on the Melbourne program and Australians will be hoping the popular Mottram gets to blow out the final candle as the Melbourne Grand Prix celebrates its 21st “birthday” with a meet drawing competitors from 21 countries.

Powell still uncertain

The highest profile among those from abroad is Jamaica’s 100m World record-holder Asafa Powell who opened up to 90 per cent capacity in training today and believes he is therefore now a 90 per cent chance of competing after all in Thursday’s 100m.

Resurgent five-time Australian 100m champion Matt Shirvington, who won the NSW state title and the Sydney Grand Prix titles, is still looking for technical consistency in closing out his races but his start is sensational as it was when he was a 60m finalist at both the 1999 and 2001 World Indoor championships.

Jamaica’s Michael Frater, 100m silver medallist at the 2005 Helsinki World championships, drops down from the 200m which he ran in Sydney, while Victorian teenager Aaron Rouge-Serret, a close third in the Sydney 100m, is a fast learner who will benefit most of all from the intense and star-studded competition.

Wariner, Williamson lead the 400m charge

Jeremy Wariner and his training partner Darold Williamson, half of the US gold medal 4x400 relay at the 2004 Athens Olympics, will clash in the 400m against Australian titleholder and Osaka World championship semi-finalist Sean Wroe and Athens Olympic relay silver medallist Clinton Hill.

Jamaica’s Sherone Simpson, winner of the Sydney 200m, has been ordered to race the Melbourne 400m where she meets home town stars Tamsyn Lewis and Madeleine Pape, who ran 1:59.59 and 1:59.92 respectively in Sydney last weekend in the greatest women’s 800m ever put on by Australian women on an Australian track. China’s Xiaoxiao Huang, who won the Sydney 400 Hurdles in an Olympic B-qualifying time of 55.98sec, will also run a lap on the flat.

The weather, however, looks to be the biggest threat to Steve Hooker’s bid to reach the heights in the Pole Vault. Although he moved to Western Australia to be coached by Alex Parnov and cleared 6.00m in Perth last month, Hooker was born and raised in Melbourne where he extended his supporter base by winning the 2006 Commonwealth Games there.

Tasmania’s Donna McFarlane, a bronze medallist the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, returns to run the 3000m Steeplechase and her race with China’s Zhenzhu Li will bear close watching; in last year’s Osaka World championships it was Li who pushed McFarlane into another runner causing the Australian to lose her shoe and ultimately retire from the race due to the pain of severely burned feet from the hot track.

Mike Hurst for the IAAF