Australian middle-distance runner Linden Hall (Getty Images) © Copyright
Report Canberra, Australia

Hall secures Olympic standard as middle-distance events grab spotlight in Canberra


Linden Hall has been nibbling at the Tokyo Olympic 1500m automatic qualifying standard since the 2019 World Championships.

The Olympic semi-finalist ran within 0.02 seconds of the mark before the qualifying period was suspended, then was 0.33 outside the mark just a few weeks ago as the period re-opened.

On a wet, then cool and damp, Thursday night (11) in Canberra, however, Hall stopped nibbling and took a huge bite, front-running her way to a 4:02.02 to achieve the only qualifying standard of the World Athletics Continental Tour Bronze meeting at the Australian Institute of Sport track.

With its moderate (about 650 metres above sea level) altitude and warm summers, Canberra is normally regarded as an ideal venue for sprints, throws and jumps. But this night the likes of Brandon Starc, Kelsey-Lee Barber, Rohan Browning and Nicola McDermott shivered and splashed their way to moderate results as the first half of the meeting experienced heavy and persistent rain.

Conditions were never going to be bad for middle-distance running, however, and right on cue as the programme switched to the 800m and 1500m events, the rain stopped, a rainbow – and then the sun – made cameo appearances, darkness followed and the competition, if not the air temperature, warmed up.

It was Hall who shone brightest. A national record for 1000m nine days earlier and a 4:04.33 at the Zatopek meeting on 26 January showed she was in very good form. She wanted to add the 1500m qualifier to her list of quality races.

Hall sat in behind a pacemaker through the first 600 metres at just over 64-second 400m pace. From then on it was no one else other than Hall, who led by a constantly increasing margin. When she reached the bell in a couple of ticks under three minutes, it was only a question of by how much she would exceed her goal.

Almost two full seconds was the answer: Hall crossed the line in 4:02.02, some 50 metres clear of Abbey Caldwell and Keely Small.

It was the fastest time run by an Australian in Australia and the second-fastest time ever run on Australian soil.

“I’ve been thinking about (4:04.20) for a long time,” Hall told trackside announcer Tamsyn Manou. “Right now, I’m not sure I actually got it, but it will sink in a few minutes.”

“We had a few things go our way,” said Hall. “We got the better part of the weather.”

Having gone close in Rio four years ago, Hall said the Olympic final and a sub-four-minute performance are among “a few projects this year”. In pursuit of the latter, she will have competition from Jessica Hull who reduced Hall’s national record to 4:00.42 last year.

“I want to get (a sub-four) and I know she does, too,” Hall said, welcoming the rivalry.

Only a few minutes later Hall had a rival for female athlete of the meeting, too, when national record-holder Catriona Bisset dominated the 800m, narrowly missing a sub-two-minute time. Bisset led all the way, running the first lap a couple of ticks under 59 seconds before extending her lead even further to cross the line in 2:00.19.

Australian record-holder Joseph Deng paced teammate and training partner Peter Bol through the first lap of the 800m in 51.6. Bol then pushed ahead on his own to win in 1:45.23, 0.03 short of the Olympic qualifying time.

“I raced well, ran pretty strongly in the second lap but just fell apart a bit in the last 50 metres,” Bol told Manou. New Zealand’s Brad Mathas made some ground up in the last 100 metres to finish second in 1:46.01, while Jared Micallef improved by some three seconds in finishing third in 1:47.00.

The men’s 1500m introduced another new name into the mix after Oliver Hoare and Charlie Hunter with the Dick Telford-coached Jye Edwards smashing his previous best to win in 3:37.30. Edwards beat Hoare to win the Albie Thomas mile late last year when Hoare was back in Australia to re-apply for his US visa.

In second place, 18-year-old Tom Palfrey ran 3:40.79 and has almost two full seasons to have a crack at Ryan Gregson’s national U20 record of 3:37.24.

Brandon Starc has been one of the world’s best high jumpers in recent years; Nicola McDermott has scaled 1.98m and has her sights set on domestic rival Eleanor Patterson’s national record of 1.99m, and beyond.

Both had to settle for below-par results in the worst of the night’s rain. McDermott won at 1.91m before three narrow misses at 1.94m. Starc lost on countback at 2.19m to 2019 World Championships teammate Joel Baden with Italy’s Marco Fassinotti third. In the javelin, Mackenzie Little had a win over Kelsey-Lee Barber with a distance of 58.43m.

Some way the best of the field event results was the 8.03m by Chris Mitrevski in taking out the men’s long jump. Rain fell equally on the long jump run-up as anywhere else, but the jumpers had some protection from the lip of the grandstand roof.

Nick Hough ran 13.63 to win the men’s 110m hurdles while Abbie Taddeo, who has run 13.05 recently, splashed to a win in the women’s 100m hurdles in 13.33.

Canberra’s unseasonal cold and wet bedevilled the 100m racers, too. Rohan Browning and Jack Hale had been expected to produce something in the low-10-second range, but Browning’s 10.34 was enough to give him almost a full tenth of a second over his rival. Hana Basic defeated Riley Day in the women’s race in 11.48.

The Continental Tour next heads to Sydney on Saturday where the weather bureau is tipping the only warm and rain-free day in the next week.

Quite a few athletes will be hoping that turns out to be an accurate prediction. If not, at least they will be well prepared.

Len Johnson for World Athletics