Collis Birmingham winning the 5000m in Hobart (© Getty Images)
A savage mid-race surge by Collis Birmingham turned the Australian selection trial for the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships into a one-horse race but there will be new faces in the team for Bydgoszcz after three of the six guaranteed places from the trial were secured by first-timers in Canberra on Sunday (20).
Birmingham Bydgoszcz bound
On a, thankfully, mild summer morning, Birmingham produced a commanding performance to win the men’s 12km race. The temperature in Australia’s capital city had hit 42C on Friday, two days before the trials, but it was less than half that as the racing began at 7:30am on Sunday morning.
Birmingham, Brett Robinson and Liam Adams – Australia’s leading finisher in Bydgoszcz three years ago – were running together as the race neared half-way. However, that changed within metres, as Birmingham broke into a decisive lead.
“It didn’t feel like I was running any faster,” reflected Birmingham later after extending his lead to around 150 metres by the line.
Birmingham clocked 34:21 around Robert de Castella’s purpose-built cross-country circuit in Stromlo Forest Park to secure his sixth senior (seventh overall) selection for the World Cross Country Championships.
His best placing is 29th in Amman in 2009, but Birmingham will be looking to do better in Bydgoszcz in just over two months’ time.
Behind him, Robinson initially got a break over Adams but that was closed down and the two settled down for a fierce sprint along the final straight. Both were given the same time, 34:48, with Robinson judged to be slightly ahead at the line.
The first three across the line in the senior men’s and women’s trial races were automatic selections for Bydgoszcz.
Robinson, mostly a middle-distance man so far with times of 3:38.94 for 1500m and 13:40 for 5000m to his name, is thus guaranteed a first Australian world cross-country singlet.
Although the World Cross Country Championships senior men’s race has a tradition of fine runs from athletes thought of as middle-distance specialists - Rod Dixon was third in the first edition in Waregem in 1973, 1976 Montreal Olympic 1500m champion John Walker was fourth for New Zealand in 1975, Kenya’s Wilfred Kirochi was the bronze medallist in the mud of Stavanger in 1989 – it is many years since a middle-distance man featured in an Australian team.
Several top athletes, including Ben St Lawrence, Craig Mottram and national cross-country champion James Nipperess, did not run the trial and, presumably, do not want to run on the global stage.
Another 1500 metres specialist, Melissa Duncan, forced the early pace in the women’s race. Unfortunately, she fell back to sixth place ultimately, so her fate is in the hands of the selectors.
Teenage talent triumphs
Tasmin McMahon then broke clear of Sophie Barker and Tara Palm to take the 8km race in 27:27, nine seconds clear of an elated Barker, with Palm another 11 seconds back in third.
McMahon will still be 19 years old when she runs in Poland. She won the Lisa Ondieki 3000m at the Zatopek meeting last December and has continued to develop.
“I thought I would run well, but not that well,” a delighted McMahon.
With athletes such as 2004 world champion Benita Willis, Anna Thompson, Melissa Rollison and Eloise Wellings missing from the women’s squad and Mottram and St Lawrence from the men’s team, it will be very much a new-look Australian team that goes to Bydgoszcz.
Samantha Prime was a clear winner of the junior women’s 6km race in 20:13, while Jack Curran won the junior men’s 8km in 24:28.
Poignantly, the trials were held just two days after the tenth anniversary of the severe bushfires which struck Canberra in Jaunary 2003.
Robert de Castella was one of several hundred Canberrans who lost their homes in the fires, which also largely destroyed the pine plantations of Stromlo Forest, where he did most of his training.
Stromlo Forest Park, modelled after the training camp at Acoteias on Portugal’s Algarve coast where de Castella and the Australians trained before the 1985 World Cross Country Championships was one of the restoration projects established after the fires and is situated in an area which was totally razed by the fires.
‘Deek’, the Marathon winner at the first IAAF World Championships in Helsinki in 1983, was among the spectators at the trial.
Len Johnson for the IAAF