Double sprint win for Batman - Hooker upsets Burgess - Johnson and Pittman in good shape - Melbourne IAAF GP II - REPORT

Thursday 17 February 2005

Melbourne, Australia - Upset victories by Australia’s third-ranked Steve Hooker in the Pole Vault and a failed rugby player Daniel Batman in the sprint double highlighted the IAAF Grand Prix II meeting in Melbourne.

Before an encouraging walk-up crowd of 5000 spectators, the vault was supposed to be a showdown between 2001 World champion Dmitri Markov and his former training partner, Paul Burgess, who set an Australian all-comers record of 5.95m last weekend.

Jana Pittman wins the 800m at the Melbourne IAAF GP II
(Getty Images)

World Championships A Standard for Hooker

But Hooker - the son of a Commonwealth Games 800m finalist (father, Bill) and a Long Jump silver medallist (mother, Erica) - showed that competitive temperament is in his genes.

In calm but cool night conditions, Hooker started with Markov at 5.50m while Burgess came in at 5.60m, the only height he would clear on this occasion.

Christopher Ranwlison and fiancée Jana Pittman at the melbourne GP II meeting
(Getty Images)

Hooker and Markov passed through to 5.75m which Hooker cleared and Markov missed. Burgess passed through to 5.80m and missed his three attempts.

“Maybe I wanted it too much,” Burgess said later.

“Maybe I tensed up. Maybe this was the failure I had to have. I didn’t want to have any bad comps this year. This has brought me back to earth.”

Benita Johnson wins the 5000m at the Melbourne GP II Meeting
(Getty Images)

“But as much as I wanted the result to be different I’m really glad for Steve Hooker. It will be nice to have three Australians probably making it to the World Championships in Helsinki in August.”

In clearing a personal best 5.75m young Victorian, Hooker, was one of only two competitors to better an IAAF A-qualifying standard.

Double sprint glory for Batman

Michael Rotich wins the 800m at the Melbourne GP II meeting
(Getty Images)

The other was Batman who, at 23, has already known the highs and lows of sport.

A World Junior Championships 4x400m relay gold medallist in 1998 and 400m individual finalist at the last World Indoor Championships, Batman retired to play rugby, then again to sell real estate, before deciding to run again.

Batman won the 100m in 10.33 from Athens Olympian and Australian national champion Josh Ross (10.36) who had clocked 10.12 to beat Batman’s 10.19 in the Telstra A-series in Perth last month.

Behind them followed Britain’s former world indoor 200m champion and Olympic 4x100m relay gold medallist Marlon Devonish (10.38), Australian record-holder Patrick Johnson (10.41), Nigeria’s Ambrose Ezenwa (10.42), former World Championship finalist Kareem Streete Thompson (10.49) and former Australian record-holder Matt Shirvington (10.53) was seventh.

Inspired by his wife, Nova Peris - the first indigenous Australian Olympic gold medallist, for hockey in Atlanta - Batman then came out and blazed the bend to win the 200m in 20.56 (-1m/sec).

He beat Johnson (20.76) and Ross (20.83) with Devonish fifth in 20.90.

Batman, who has two children with Peris, admitted: “I’ve matured on a lot of levels, it’s maturity and a different peace of mind.

“It’s changed me a little bit. Having kids makes you a lot more focused.”

“Any dramas I’ve had in the past have given me a new attitude on life to just enjoy myself and that’s the main thing.”

Enjoyment seems to be Jana Pittman’s new mantra as well.

Pittman takes surprising 800m win

The Paris 400m Hurdles World champion switched from the 400m flat to 800m and won convincingly from a field of two-lap specialists.

In her first race since miraculously recovering from an August knee surgery to finish fifth in the Olympic hurdles final six months ago, Pittman ran the fastest two-lap time in Australia this season.

She coasted to the line to win in 2:04.03, with second placed Victorian youngster Katherine Katsanevakis (2:06.37) far behind.

It was the first test of her coaching experiment in having fellow Commonwealth Games hurdles gold medallist and fiancé, Chris Rawlinson, guiding her.

Pittman and Phil King, who has directed her for the last two years, called off their coaching partnership two months ago and she flew to England where Rawlinson, has taken on the coaching responsibility.

“I’m really pleased, I felt really, really strong,” said 22-year-old Pittman.

“I could have kicked a bit earlier and it would have been good to battle the last 100 metres with somebody else, so I’m just pleased I made it the whole way around - it’s a long way.”

“I ran quite even, which was what Chris wanted. We are doing lots of long distance, hard-yakka work so (the 800m) is more suited to what we wanted to do.”

Although their coaching relationship may face sterner tests as she continues on the road to defending her world title in Helsinki in August, this first success should instill confidence in both.

“I’m very happy with it,” said Rawlinson, who won the 400m Hurdles in 50.50.

Easy victory for Benita Johnson

Australia’s other World title-holder, Benita Johnson, won by more than the length of the straight to take the 5000m in 15:21.02 from marathoner Kerryn McCann (15:41.76). An interesting figure back in eighth was former Swiss champion Anita Weyermann (16:57.99).

Johnson won five of six races in Europe and Britain and demonstrated on the track that she will be hard to topple when she defends the World cross country title in France next month.

Johnson’s training partner, the World Cup 3000m champion Craig Mottram took out the 5000m in 13:28.05 from Tanzanians Samwel Mwera (13:29.14) and Patrick Nyangelo (13:36.40).

Canberra’s Tim Parravicini won the Long Jump with his opening leap of 8.00m (+0.3m/sec) from Brisbane 17-year-old Chris Noffke (7.75m).

Jamaica’s Commonwealth champion and Athens Olympic finalist Michael Blackwood won the 400m in 45.81 with South Australian Mark Ormrod (46.07) holding out another Jamaican star, Michael McDonald (46.24).

Tamsyn Lewis, winner of the last seven Australian 800m titles, dropped down to win the 400m in 52.53 from Jamaica’s Olympic relay medallist Novalene Williams (52.75) with Benita Johnson’s little sister, Caitlin Willis third (53.58) and another decorated Jamaican, Sandie Richards, fifth (53.88).

Kenyan trio victorious

Kenyans figured prominently. Collins Kosgei won the steeplechase in 8:28.12 from Australia’s Richard Jeremiah (8:29.63); Michael Rotich won the 800m in 1:48.25 from Sydney’s Nick Bromley (1:48.86); and William Chirchir claimed the 1500m in 3:37:58 from Canberra’s Corey Tucker (3:38.42).

Australian titleholder Sarah Jamieson showed she is on the rise, winning the 1500m in 4:06.80 from Suzy Walsham (4:09.84) and Georgie Clarke (4:10.25).

The 2003 World Youth 100m Hurdles champion Sally McLellan from Queensland won the Open sprint double (11.85/24.13) to show further signs of progress.

During one of the first throws in the women’s Hammer competition, the cage was unfortunately damaged. Officials tried to repair the cage but in vain, so the event had to be cancelled. It has now been agreed that this women’s Hammer Throw competition will take place on Saturday, 19 February, at the Telstar A-series meeting in Adelaide.

Mike Hurst (Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Australia) for the IAAF