400m hurdler Chris Douglas has put himself into contention for Olympic selection with his first sub-50 second performance at the Melbourne Track Classic.
In front of the smallest crowd to ever attend a high performance meet in Melbourne, Douglas streeted the field to stop the clock at 49.70 seconds. The performance improved on his 50.02 second personal best set in 2020.
The run, worth 1185 points in World Athletics Rankings calculations from a performance score of 1145 and placing score of 40 points for the Category D meet, will immediately move Douglas into a quota qualifying position for the Tokyo Olympics. He will be ranked 40th with 1167 points when the rankings are updated next week by World Athletics. The top 40 athletes who have either achieved the 48.90 second qualifying mark or are next best ranked based on their World Athletics Ranking, will be eligible for selection to Tokyo. If you would like to delve into the dark arts that are the World Athletics Rankings, you might like this piece we wrote earlier in the week.
But more importantly, because fundamentally our sport is about great stories, rather than statistics… you might be asking, who is Chris Douglas?
Australian born – in Melbourne and proudly sporting the Glenhuntly Athletics Club singlet at the Melbourne meet – the 24-year-old has lived most of his life in the United States, where he ran in college for the University of Iowa, primarily in the 110m hurdles (PB: 13.88s) and 400m hurdles. He also interned at Google for three-years, before focusing more recently on Olympic selection for Australia.
Maybe an article for another time – but is there something about our male hurdlers being tech focused? Nick Hough is the successful founder of Outwrite (formerly Gradeproof), an artificial intelligence writing tool, and well, Google is no slouch either.
The women’s race was close over the first eight hurdles, before Genevieve Cowie pulled away to win from Daniela Roman by over a second in 58.80s.
Gregson wins 1500m – but maybe not the one you expect?
Australian athletics power couple, Ryan and Genevieve Gregson, both took to the track over 1500m. Ryan is a 1500m specialist, Olympic finalist and former Australian record holder; while Genevieve is a steeplechaser with strong longer distance credentials, who was stepping down in distance.
Well, Gen took away the win, while Ryan was fifth after forcing the pace in the middle stages of his race.
The women’s race saw Abbey Caldwell, just out of the junior ranks and having an impressive first season as an open athlete, pushing the pace after the pacemaker dropped out, with Victorian Mile champion Lauren Ryan close on her heels. But over the last lap it was Gregson who impressively pulled away for victory in 4:10.86, from Ryan (4:12.86) and Melissa Duncan (4:12.82).
“Thankfully we had a young girl Amy Bunnage pace us, which was very selfless,” Gregson said after the race.
“I was able to sit back until I could take on the pace and kick away. I did want it to be a little slower – anything faster than 66 and I’m going to feel it so I keep staying to myself on the start line, ‘let them go,’ but I had a sniff for the win so I focused on that,” she said.
The men’s race demonstrated the depth of Australian 1500m running, despite the absence of the three athletes who have reached the Olympic qualifying mark of 3:35.00: Stewart McSweyn, Ollie Hoare (US based) and Matthew Ramsden.
After the pacemaker dropped out Ryan Gregson assumed the lead, but didn’t look comfortable with 300m to run when moves were made. He wasn’t out of the picture, doggedly holding on until the final straight, but it wasn’t his night.
Form athlete so far during the domestic season, Jye Edwards, backed up his winning performance at the Canberra Track Classic, showing the field a clear pair of heels in the closing stages to win in 3:39.02. In a blanket finish, Victorian champion Adam Spencer set a new personal best of 3:39.94 for second, ahead of Queensland’s Callum Davies (3:40.05) and Victoria’s Jordan Williamsz (3:40.07). Gregson finished fifth in 3:40.32, with the first eight finishers stopping the clock under 3:42.
Denny returns to the ring
Australia’s top discus thrower, Matt Denny, had his first competition in 2021 following an injury late last year where he popped two ribs, rotated his sternum and strained his costochondral and obliques. It was a winning performance, in a solid 60.56m.
In the women’s event, Taryn Gollshewsky claimed the spoils of victory in 56.21m, from Queensland-based Brit Jade Lally (55.61m).
Kolesnikoff breaks Birkinhead’s 9 year streak
Alexander Kolesnikoff set a new NSW Record of 19.81m to become the first Australian in 9 years to defeat Damien Birkinhead. In doing so, he moved to fifth on the Australian all-time list. In the competition held in the throwing circle in the warm up area of Lakeside Stadium, Birkinhead was almost a metre behind with a 18.95m putt.
Superlatives Alexander Kolesnikoff Shot Put – 1st 19.81m
▪️PB by 30cm
▪️Moves up from #7 to #5 🇦🇺 Australian All-time
▪️Inflicted first defeat by an 🇦🇺 Aussie in 9 years on Australian record holder Damien Birkinhead#TarbyStats pic.twitter.com/HMYqWJOCYe— David Tarbotton (@David_Tarbotton) March 25, 2021
Emma Berg took out the women’s event in 14.45m.
Hammer time for Hulley and Kousparis
Olympic hopeful Alexandra Hulley took out the hammer throw with a throw of 65.50m from Victoria’s Stephanie Radcliffe (60.35m). Hulley will need a performance closer to 69m at the Australian Championships to push for a qualifying position for Tokyo.
In a close men’s event, New South Wales’ Costa Kousparis took the lead with his final throw of the competition. The 65.18m was enough for victory, with less than 3 metres spanning the field of four in an exciting competition: Ned Weatherly (64.45m), Jack Dalton (64.35m), Timothy Heyes (62.38m).
Oboya streets the field as Hyne continues progress
Bendere Oboya hasn’t been beaten by an Australian for two-years and it looks as if it will be some time until she is. She ran strongly in the early stages of the 400m to have the race won by the half way mark. Despite slowing over the second half, she won by over a second in 53.01 seconds.
In the men’s race, Ross Hynes, just out of the junior ranks, was strong in the last 50 metres to take victory in 47.16 seconds.
Triple Jump wins to Boras and Oye
16-year-old Tiana Boras took victory in the triple jump after travelling up the Princess Highway from Geelong, recording a 12.95m (+0.0) jump. It was just short of her 13.02m personal best.
In the men’s event, Ayo Ore took the win in 15.90m (+0.0).
200m events round out the night
Peter Norman is one of Australia’s greatest ever sprinters. When he passed away in 2006, he left a legacy as a humanitarian – he was a noble bystander to the famous 1968 Olympic podium protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos – as well as a champion: his 20.06 second performance to win the Olympic silver medal in Mexico City is still the Australian record.
The men’s 200m race at the Melbourne Track Classic is named in his honour. NSW’s Jordan Sarmento claimed the win in the event last night in 21.29 seconds.
The women’s 200m was taken out by 2019 Stawell Gift runner-up Sophia Fighera in 24.20 seconds.
What should be made of the Melbourne Track Classic?
It’s certainly been a strange 12 months since the 2020 Melbourne Track Classic, with the interruption of COVID-19. The 2020 meet was a good one, with memorable performances from Jess Hull and Stewart McSweyn taking out the national 5000m titles and booking a spot on the Olympic team.
Every meet is memorable in some way, but let’s face it, nobody will reminisce about the 2021 Melbourne Track Classic in the same way they would about the meet held 15 years prior, which was a classic night of athletics that featured Cathy Freeman breaking 50 seconds for the first time over 400m.
That was obviously a different era. But any way you look at it, for the sporting capital of the world, in a state without a single active case of COVID and government frameworks easily allowing for thousands of spectators, the crowd of a few hundred at the Melbourne Track Classic was underwhelming. Athletes, and athletics, deserve better. The timing of the meet, on a Thursday starting at 5pm, and two days before the Queensland Track Classic, could best be described as curious. I heard a few more colourful descriptions last night.
But all is not finished for elite athletics in Melbourne this season. There’s a good meet at Box Hill next Thursday evening – the Box Hill Classic – with classy 1500m fields assembled as the highlight. In particular, the men’s 1500m field will be the strongest to be seen this domestic season, outside of the Australian Championships final. We’ll be providing a preview in the coming days and are big fans of what Box Hill Athletics Club are doing to reinvigorate the sport in Victoria.
If you can, get around the athletics community at Box Hill next Thursday night. It’s a social occasion just before the Easter long weekend, with drinks and food trucks, and with great athletes striving for great performances. Come and help celebrate that.
Our full photo gallery of 100 photos is available here. In the meantime, below are a couple of our favourite photos not already featured above.
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