Melbourne preview

Parnov’s protégés are the pinnacle of high expectations as World Athletics Tour 2007 begins - PREVIEW

Wednesday 28 February 2007

Melbourne, Australia - The pole vaulting world has undergone a seismic shift in the last year with the magnetic heart of the men’s event flipping Down Under to Australia where Steve Hooker and Paul Burgess expect to be flying high in the 20th anniversary Telstra A-Series Melbourne Track Classic -IAAF Grand Prix - on Friday (2 March).

World Cup winner and Commonwealth Games champion Hooker and his training partner Paul Burgess, who won the World Athletics Final last season, were lthe world’s two best vaulters in 2006 and carry the expectations of the home crowd at the opening meeting of the IAAF World Athletics Tour 2007.

Steve Hooker - Pole Vault gold - Melbourne 2006
(Getty Images)

Chasing in their orbit are the brilliant Americans, Athens Olympic silver medallist Toby Stevenson and reigning World Indoor champion Brad Walker, as well as former World champion Dmitri Markov, now based in Adelaide. Sadly Markov will end his career after the meeting, having been forced to retire due to a chronic foot injury which has prevent consistent training. Click here for more information on his retirement.

Ironically top ranked Hooker has yet to join the “six-metre club”, having a personal best of “only” 5.96 (Berlin, 2006) while Stevenson (PB 6.00m), Walker (PB 6.00m), Burgess (PB 6.00m) and Markov (PB 6.05m) have each broken through that elite barrier.

“The average height of the top-five group in the Melbourne Track Classic is over six metres,” said Burgess, observing the special calibre of this event.

Paul Burgess of Australia
(Getty Images)

Yet even a decade ago few could have foreseen the time when Australian-born vaulters would hold the top two spots on the World Rankings, certainly not Burgess even after he won the World Junior title in Sydney in late 1996.

“I never really thought about it. I guess I hoped. But now Steve and I are living the dream,” Burgess enthused.

Brad Walker of USA wins World Indoor gold
(Getty Images)

Raising the standard

It was shortly after those junior championships, in October 1996, that Alex Parnov moved from Russia to South Australia along with his young protégés Markov, Viktor Chistiakov and Tatiana Grigorieva at the invitation of local Adelaide coach Alan Launder.

Some local coaches bridled at the foreign incursion and some local competitors even quit, despairing of ever winning selection in an Australian team dominated by Russian ex-patriots.

Toby Stevenson (USA)
(Kirby Lee)

“When you raise the standard, it brings different level of inspiration for the sport in Australia,” Parnov said yesterday. “If you fight for your place on the team now, you are pretty much on top of the world.”

Parnov fought plenty of his own battles, but now he coaches both Hooker and Burgess as well as the well-performed Kym Howe (4.72m this year) and his 16-year-old daughter Vicky (Parnov) at the West Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS) in beautiful, affluent Perth on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

Gunning for Sergey’s record

Dmitri Markov wins the Pole Vault at the 2004 Australian Championships
(Getty Images)

“Alex is the first to admit he didn’t have that much talent yet he jumped 5.80m (5.82m at Sumgait, in 1985) and he thinks if he gets a guy with talent and he uses his ideas that the world record could fall,” Hooker explained.

"We’re all gunning for that (Sergey Bubka’s World record of 6.14m). We don’t want to give it too much credit.

“The way Brad, Toby, Paul and myself are going in the next couple of years we could all take legitimate shots at it (the World record) and it could well fall.”

Shawn Crawford (USA)
(Getty Images)

Walker, for one, has put his hosts on notice that he has not come to Australia to work on his suntan. With a certain imprudence, especially for a guest, he cleared 5.92m to win the West Australian state championships in Perth last weekend.

“Toby and I are looking to put the Aussies back into three and four (on the World Rankings) and we’re trying to take those number one and two positions,” Walker taunted.

Stevenson is also up for the occasion of the first big outdoor meet of 2007 this Friday.

Joshua Ross (AUS)
(Getty Images)

“We’re fuelled by competition and they (Hooker and Burgess) have a great coach (Parnov). You don’t get better unless you jump against the best.”

For his part in this extraordinary revolution in the men’s Pole Vault, Parnov, 47, admits: “Every soldier dreams about becoming a General.”

Many to thank …including Bubka

John Steffensen (AUS)
(Getty Images)

He thanks his own coach Vjacheslav Bereusin , who recently turned 80 and lives in Chernitcino, Ivanovo region 300km from Moscow.

“He gave me a lot of chances to experiment with the programme and make mistakes and learn from it,” Parnov said. “We still talk often. His opinion is really interesting.”

Parnov also credits Australians Alan Launder, international technical official Brian Roe and the late Wally Foreman, the former director of WAIS who established and funded a centre of pole vault excellence around Parnov.

Michelle Perry (USA)
(Getty Images)

And, oddly enough, Parnov also thanks Bubka - the very man who took away his own dream of competing at the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki in 1983.

Parnov had taken second place at the Russian selection trial, but, he explained: "The federation called me to say, ‘we have an idea to send a promising boy and his name is Sergey Bubka.’

"They were polite and invited me to discuss the idea and definitely I was not overwhelmingly happy with the decision but I tried to see things a little deeper and I knew my life wasn’t going to finish at that point.

Christian Cantwell (USA)
(Kirby Lee)

“Maybe in appreciation after that, towards the end of the 1980s he (Bubka) invited me to work for him in Moscow. It was an invaluable experience for me.”

Whether it all ultimately leads to a Parnov-coached Australian upsetting Bubka remains to be seen, but events in Melbourne this Friday may provide a glimpse of things to come.

“It’s a competition I want to win, rather than to jump high in,” Burgess added. “Hopefully it’s both, which is often the way it works out. But this is still all part of the big picture, that being the World Championships in Osaka later this year.”

Solid victory for Sally McLellan in Canberra
(Getty Images)

On the track, Ross looks for Crawford’s scalp

Three-times Australian 100m champion Josh Ross is also thinking long-term, but he is excited about racing the Olympic 200m titleholder, America’s brawny Shawn Crawford around the bend in Melbourne where the weather and the wind has been forecast to be hot and favourable for the sprints on Friday.

Ross, was pipped on the 100m finish-line running 10.17sec to Crawford’s 10.16 in Sydney at the Telstra A-Series meet two weeks ago and backed up with a personal best 20.70sec 200m win although he was cautious around the bend.

Craig Mottram successfully defends his 3000 title in Athens
(Getty Images)

“There were a few things I didn’t execute properly in Sydney two weeks ago but I had not trained properly for the previous three weeks due to a minor hamstring muscle strain, so that was my first race back,” Ross revealed.

“The last couple of times I’ve raced him (Crawford) I beat him out at the start, at the 2005 Worlds (100m) and in Sydney, but he’s there when it matters, at the finish. He probably didn’t even know who I was, but hopefully I’m closing the gap,” the Helsinki semi-finalist added.

Steffensen and Johnson are the other 200m standouts

The Peter Norman 200m has been named in honour of the late Australian sprinter who took the Mexico Olympic 200m silver medal and thus shared the podium with Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their iconic equal rights protest.

Crawford and Ross will be joined in the Melbourne 200m by Commonwealth Games 400m champion John Steffensen, to whom Norman last year personally handed a framed photograph of the Mexico protest salute signed by the three medallists. The Australian 100m record-holder (at 9.93sec) Patrick Johnson, a Helsinki World Championship 200m finalist, is also in the field.

Perry in the sprint hurdles…Australian record may also fall

World champion Michelle Perry will start favourite in the 100m Hurdles, but local interest will fix on young Queenslander Sally McLellan who has twice this year run faster than the venerated national record only to be disappointed due to excessive wind assistance.

In Warsaw in June 1972, Melbourne’s Pam Ryan - the Mexico Olympic 80m hurdles silver medallist - clocked 12.93sec (+ 0.9m/s) and her performance has stood the test of time. No-one will be happier to see the record tumble than Ryan herself who is expected to attend the Melbourne Track Classic.

“It’s about time it went,” Ryan said recently while attending a coaching conference at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

Cantwell to put Martin in a spin

The new US Indoor champion, Christian Cantwell, a giant among giants, is entered for the shot put against local hero Scott Martin, although the American had all five of his recorded indoor title efforts over 21m and his winner of 21.77m is more than a metre better than the Australian’s best to date.

Local hero returns

The heart piece of the Melbourne meet is a return by local hero Craig “Buster” Mottram to action in the 5000m. The World Championship bronze medallist in this event, Mottram figured in one of the great championship 5000m races at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne last year when both he and Augustine Choge bettered 13 minutes with the little Kenyan breaking Australian hearts by claiming the gold medal.

On this occasion it is again a Kenyan who would seem to stand between Mottram the two-time World Cup 3000m winner and a hometown victory, with Boniface Songok a well credentialed opponent who defeated Mottram in both their encounters in 2006 - in Monaco and London.

Songok has bests of 7:30.62 (3000m) and 12:55.85 (5000m) compared against Mottram’s national records of 7:32.19 and 12:55.76.

Another Kenyan, Shadrack Korir has raced superbly over 2000m and 3000m indoors this year and with a 1500m best of 3:31.96 last year he may have put the cat among the pigeons had he started in the 5000m in Melbourne, however he will contest the 1500m where he will take on the Commonwealth bronze medallist, local product Mark Fountain.

Jamieson sets for Mile record?

In their first clash since last year’s Commonwealth Games 1500m final, Sarah Jamieson and Lisa Corrigan both look capable of bettering Margaret Crowley’s Australian Mile record of 4:25.84 which was set in Monte Carlo in 1996.

Jamieson, 31, lowered Atlanta Olympic finalist Crowley’s national 1500m record last year with her 4:00.93 in Stockholm and on January 27 this year she set an Australian indoor mile record of 4:28.03 winning in Boston.

While Jamieson is coming off a block of training, Corrigan, 23, enters Melbourne with a series of races behind her - including her virtually solo 4:05.25 for 1500m in Sydney two weeks ago - and with pace on for 2:10 at 800m, this promises to be one of the best women’s races of the night.

Mike Hurst (Sydney Daily Telegraph) for the IAAF

Start lists and Results will be found via the following link on the day of the meeting –