Athletics adds some much-needed Wattage

Track and field is one of the more curious sports in terms of public interest.  For one week every four years, it is the blue ribbon sport, the centrepiece of the Olympic Games.  At least in this country, for the other 207 weeks of the Olympic cycle, ninety per cent (to be conservative) of the population don’t give a flying rat’s about it.  This is partly because most Aussies have little understanding of how difficult it is to make finals and win medals in big international athletics competitions.


You’d be forgiven for thinking that track and field had taken an indefinite break after London, because you have to search hard for mainstream media coverage.  Anyway, this Saturday Melbourne hosts an IAAF event, the grandiosely-named Qantas Melbourne World Challenge. (In terms of inflated self-importance it’s not quite as outstanding as Blacktown International Sports Park in Rooty Hill, but it’s getting there).


The sell for attending the one major athletics event we have in Melbourne each year (the time-honoured Zatopek meeting in December is a tier or two down) has been pretty simple for the past few years – go and watch Sally Pearson and David Rudisha run.  The Queen of the Australian track is a beauty – a class athlete, the consummate competitor and humbly exuberant off the track.  It was a great pleasure to watch her bag the Olympic gold, but sadly she has missed the Australian season for the first time due to injury.  The Kenyan Rolls-Royce took both the gold medal and the world record home from London, but will also be absent for the first time in several years.


So the Melbourne meeting needs a spark and a selling point.  It was going to be Asafa, but he hasn’t quite made it to the start line.  Our other London track and field medallist, the enigmatic long jumper Mitchell Watt will be competing, together with his friend and London gold medallist, the Englishman Greg Rutherford.   Watt is a fine jumper, but has never really captured the public imagination, having been less visible due to going to college in the US, and not quite grabbing his opportunities at both the World Champs in 2011 and London in 2012.  Minor medals at the highest levels should not be sneezed at, but it is also true that this event is not super-strong at present, and he has been as good as anyone in the past two years, but found one or two better in the biggest competitions.  His time might still come, and this will be a high quality competition.


Another high-quality jumping competition will be in the men’s high jump.  Current world leader (this means little before the European season starts) Australian Liam Zamel-Paez is joined by another rising local Brendon Starc (yes, he is the cricketer’s brother) and good quality American jumper Dusty Jonas, a former indoor world champion bronze medallist.   Quality high jumping and pole vault are superb spectacles in the flesh, so if you haven’t seen them before, cough up your $17.80 and get down and have a look.  There are both men’s and women’s pole vaults and the women’s event looks the best event on the women’s card, featuring the Parnov sisters and Alana Boyd.


The men’s 5000 metres is the other event of great interest, with Aussie Ryan Gregson stepping up in distance for this meeting after a hugely disappointing result in the 1500 in London.     He will be joined by a field of locals, Kiwis and Kenya’s 19 year-old Japhet Korir, who last week won the world cross-country championship in Poland and is a great young talent.


So, get along to Lakeside Stadium on Saturday, the opportunities to see quality athletics in Melbourne are infrequent.  It’s a  3.15 – 7.30pm timeslot with excellent weather forecast.  Sometimes it’s events with lower expectations that deliver and hopefully this will be one.


  1. Chris Bracher says

    I hope to be there Steve, hot on the heels of Monday at Stawell.
    My eyes will be not just on the track but on the majesty of the old South Melbourne Grandstand that was fortunately saved from the wreckers ball and is now training home to aspiring track and field Olympians from Victoria.

  2. Despite the absence of Pearson and Rudisha some quality athletes will be on show. A high quality event that deserves a much bigger profile, very hard in Australia competing against the football codes.

  3. Still weep every time I walk past the old Olympic Park (aka Eddie’s edifice) on the way to a heart game at the not round ground.

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