The 2019 Athletics Australia Coles Summer Super Series kicked off in Canberra yesterday with many of the stars of athletics in action. There were a collection of promising results and one very special performance.
I’m sure of all the names that have been pencilled in for the world championships, Sarah Carli, 24, is not one of them. But yesterday we saw the resurrection of an athletics career of a terrific junior talent, when virtual unknown Sarah Carli ran the first world championships qualifier by an Aussie track and field athlete this summer.
Lining up in the 400m hurdles, Carli was not her usual self today.
“Sometimes before a race I can get a bit narky, but today I was really calm,” she recalled. Taking 15 strides early and dropping down to 16s for the remainder of the race, Carli was feeling comfortable.
“At the 200m mark I felt really good. Very composed. I had Sara (Klein) on my outside and I knew I was running a good pace and I just felt so good and my coach says to kick off the bend and I did that and I started gaining and once you get momentum on someone you just keep going and going. I knew I had nothing to lose so I just went for it.”
She hit the line in 55.67 seconds, passing Lauren Wells in the sprint to the finish, who also nabbed a world championships qualifier of 55.72 seconds. It was a one second personal best and elevated her to number seven in Australian history.
“Phenomenal.” Was Carli’s description of her performance. “I have been training so well and everything was there but to actually put it into a race.“
But the story behind this performance is her own perseverance. As a 16-year-old in 2011, she claimed a surprise silver in the 400m hurdles at the World Youth Championships. But then things happened and life got in the way of her sport.
“I forgot the sport was for fun and as a junior I got badly injured, so I was then enjoying other aspects of my life and I wasn’t ready to give that up. I was at university and working at Costco - huge hours and late nights.”
From 2013 to 2017 she competed but couldn’t break 59.30, and was certainly not at the 58.05 level she had been as a 16-year-old, but things started to change in 2018 and the times tumbled. She dipped under 59 seconds, then 58 seconds and at the Commonwealth Games trials to 56 seconds.
So why the improvement?
“I was then working nine to five and had a routine. Making it to all my sessions. I had a desk job (Financial adviser and mortgage broker) so that was been the difference.”
Carli’s win was also the first defeat in eight years of one of the greats of Australian 400m hurdling - Lauren Wells. The dual Olympian and four-time Commonwealth Games representative had come into the meet under an injury cloud, although was also in good form following a 23.35w (2.2m/s wind) and 53.47 400m. The last occasion Wells was defeated by a countrywoman, except in a race in 2014 in Perth when she had food poisoning, was in 2011. It was the only race of the year by Jana Pittman and they both dipped under 56 seconds. Pittman had a few low-key races in January 2012, but effectively her 2011 competition was her last major race.
Another Sarah was also in terrific form at meet one of the Coles Summer Super Series. In the sand pit, Sarah Walsh broke her own T44 long jump record for the third occasion in six weeks with a leap of 5.33m.
“It has been a pretty good season so far with three PBs in three competitions.” she said.
She felt it has just taken time to settle into living and training in Canberra with Matty Beckenham.
Brooke Stratton won the long jump with a leap of 6.50m, which followed her season opener of 6.61m. It is only a matter of weeks before she nails the world championships standard of 6.72m.
Ideal conditions briefly turned sour with rain hitting the venue at about the time of the 100m sprints, but despite the conditions Jack Hale still ran well, winning in 10.23, from teenage sensation Edwards Niketia (NZL) with 10.30.
“I came here ready to race and ran my second fastest ever time. In these conditions is a good sign,” Hale said.
“It is a good indicator the pre-season work has paid off. I knew if I could get out well I’d run alright. 10.2 is where we expected I’d be at with more favourable conditions.”
The women’s 100m had promising depth as three athletes dipped under 11.70. But the surprise was heptathlete, Celeste Mucci, winning the race in 11.60 – a 0.25 seconds PB. We would have to go back decades to locate a heptathlete who could force their way onto the national 4x100m relay. Behind Mucci, Commonwealth Games representative Maddie Coates ran 11.61, followed by Victorian Brittany Burkitt (11.68).
Good coaching environments we know can produce results and under horizontal jumps coach legend John Boas there is a tremendous group developing in Melbourne. His squad swept the podium in the men’s long jump. It was led by former teenage talent Henry Smith, 22, with a personal best of 7.87m, ahead of former junior super star Darcy Roper, 20, who won medals at the 2015 World Youth and 2016 World Juniors, leaping 7.65m, ahead of Commonwealth Games finalist Chris Mitrevski, 22, with 7.60m. The group also includes para long jumper Nicholas Hum and former NSW World Youth and World Junior representative Audrey Kryiacou.
They have been pushing each other this season and Smith noted how supportive they were of each other. “We all get around each other.”
There was a breakthrough in the 400m by teenager Tyler Gunn, knocking 0.76 seconds from his PB with a time of 46.09.
“I was just trying to get around my PB,” he revealed, but he is now the second fastest Australian, behind Steve Solomon, in the last three years. So where to from here?
“I’m just taking it year by year now. I’ll be trying to get to nationals and run 45. Also maybe I have a chance to run at world relays.”
One of the feature races was the women’s 800 metres. In a slow tactical event, Carley Thomas took off at 200m and entered the straight with an enormous lead which was hauled in by New Zealander Katherine Camp as she clocked 2:05.44, just ahead of Thomas with 2:05.56.
“It was tough, but it felt good,” said Thomas. “At the 200m I thought just go for it and see what you can do. I felt like I was light and floating, except the last 50m I was starting to feel it, but that is alright. I knew it was going to be a tough race going into it and I thought I would just sit in and respond to anything that happens and give it my best and I think I did so.”
In third was 17-year-old Keely Small (2:06.32) while Morgan Mitchell continued to improve in her new event, the 800m clocking a PB of 2:06.38.
In the first event of the day, Alex Hulley’s solid season looks to have her set to revise her PB and surpass the 70 metres barrier in the hammer throw. Yesterday she reached 67.79m, within one metre of her PB.
“I’m feeling really good this season and hope for a PB soon,” she said. ”70 metres would be the ultimate this season. Every comp this year has been an improvement on the last, so I just need to keep going.”
Getting back into competition are many of the para athletes who in 2018 had no major event, except those few with events on the Commonwealth Games program. Chad Perris had a terrific competition dipping under 11 seconds in the 100m with 10.96. Second in the race, Tasmanian Sam Walker broke the under-18 Australian T38 100m record with a terrific time of 11.73.
Competing when the rain hit the venue were the pole vaulters which made the competition challenging. Kurtis Marschall cleared a best of 5.30m, defeating Declan Carruthers on countback.
After waiting 10 years to break her 400m PB, Angie Blackburn has now broken it twice in two weeks, now down to 52.71 seconds to win today ahead of Bella O’Grady.
Second in the men’s shot was the rapidly improving Aiden Harvey who was again over 18 metres, setting a PB of 18.40m.
Next stop on the Coles Summer Super Series is the Sydney Track Classic on Saturday 23 February.
David Tarbotton for Athletics Australia