The Zatopek:10 is the Melbourne distance running community’s night of nights, the premier distance meeting in a city that loves distance running, but the men and women in spikes were almost upstaged by a shot putter on Thursday (12).
It was something of a surprise that the 53rd edition of the event saw New Zealand shot putter Tom Walsh throw a national record 20.61m to share top billing with Zatopek race winners Samuel Chelanga and Nikki Chapple.
The men’s Shot Put was the first event of the night, and not even on the programme until national throws coach Scott Martin guaranteed a good field. He delivered on that promise.
Zatopek fans are used to New Zealand athletes coming over and impressing in the 10,000m races. Rex Wilson and Robbie Johnston have won the men’s race in years past; Nyla Carroll, Kate McIlroy and Jessica Ruthe the women’s.
But a New Zealand record in the Shot Put – now that is a surprise, and a relief for Walsh after his fortunes changed following a string of near-misses.
Walsh has been threatening teenage phenomenon Jacko Gill’s senior record 20.38m, set in December 2011, for a while.
He threw 20.09m and 20.07m earlier this year. Two weeks ago he improved to 20.30m in Christchurch, but that field, damaged in the disastrous earthquakes, proved to be downhill. Last weekend in Geelong, just outside Melbourne, he threw 20.45m but there has been some doubt that the competition will qualify for record purposes.
On Thursday night it took Walsh just two throws to set all those matters right.
His first effort was 19.86m but his second sailed out beyond the 20-metre arc, landing at 20.61m. He then had other legal throws of 19.93m and 20.21m before closing with two fouls as he over-reached while going for distance.
Walsh’s immediate target is the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, next March, then the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next summer. He has been in Melbourne for several weeks, training with Martin’s throwing group.
Chelanga proves his fitness after injury woes
On the track, the races named after one legend and put on the map with a world record by another, Ron Clarke, in its third edition 50 years ago in 1963, have been run, and won, by every significant Australian distance runner. But 30 years after Gabriel Kamau defeated Rob de Castella to become the first Kenyan man to win the Zatopek race, Chelanga became the seventh and provided the 11th Kenyan win.
Chelanga led, somewhat unwillingly at times, for most of the second half of the race. Collis Birmingham surged to the lead with five laps to go, but Chelanga’s final two-lap spurt accounted for him comfortably as he won in 27:46.06, in what was just his second track race for the year.
“I was injured then I got the chance to come here. It means a lot to win something after a season when you have injuries. There aren’t many races in December, so when I saw this one I wanted to come to Australia to run it. I was hoping for a good run,” said the US-based winner.
Chelanga also ran two Half Marathons earlier in the year with a best of 1:01:04 in Boston in April. He said his goal is to run under 60 minutes for that event in 2014.
Birmingham was second in 27:56.22 and happy to clinch his third national title and guarantee his Commonwealth Games spot.
“I had a bit of a chat with him (Chelanga) with about 11 laps to go. He asked me to go to the front and I said ‘look mate, it’s the national title and I will go to the front when I think I can drop these boys’. A lap or two later, I thought we could make a break. I was hoping he would come back past after a few laps or so, but I think I might have annoyed him a little bit so he held on making his move until two laps to go,” joked Birmingham.
Chapple now knows she can go to Glasgow as well, but the event remains a quandary.
She is leaning towards the Marathon, but may have to run another one as Jessica Trengove gained an automatic place with her Moscow performance and Lisa Weightman looks to have another place wrapped up on times.
However, that decision is for another day. In the meantime Chapple can savour a run which saw her pull away from Trengove on the last lap to win in 32:56.22, with Trengove second in a personal best 33:08.26.
Len Johnson for the IAAF