Australia will be represented by 12 men across eight individual track events, plus the 4x100m and 4x400m relays, at the IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland next week (10-15 July).
At the last three editions of the Worlds U20s Australian men have achieved three top 8 finishes on the track. In 2012 this included a silver to Nick Hough (110mH) and bronze to Steve Solomon (400m). Confirming that competition for lanes in finals will be fierce.
It is exciting to see what this group, and 54-strong team, can produce in 2018. We look at each of these male track athletes in our preview of these events.
100m – Jake and Josh flying at the right time
Townsville sprinter Jake Doran (QLD) has come back from a terrible run of injuries, that ruled him out of the 2017/18 domestic season and the Commonwealth Games Trials, to break the Australian U20 record with a spectacular 10.15 seconds (+1.5m/s) in Finland at the start of the week. Doran was a late addition to the 4x100m relay with a 10.69s in early June off just 12-14 weeks training. In Jämsä, Finland last Sunday, Doran ran a stunning personal best of 10.35s in a heat before dropping a further 0.2s in the final. The previous record of 10.21s was set by Jack Hale in 2014.
Coached by Olympian Paul Di Bella, who has a PB of 10.26s as a senior, Doran is now equal sixth fastest Australian male of all-time. The teenager first burst onto the sprint scene by breaking Trae Williams QLD U18 record when he ran 10.47 in March 2017 before injuries hit.
Doran, 17, has the third fastest time on provisional entries for Tampere with American Anthony Schwartz top of the list with 10.09s from June. For the young Australian, who turns 18 just days after the U20s conclude, this is a great experience to try to reproduce this form at a big meet and try to get through the rounds.
Fellow relay teammate Josh Azzopardi (NSW) also produced a personal best on July 1 in Finland to achieve the qualifying standard on the last possible day and secure an individual 100m berth. His time of 10.41, improved on his 10.66 from January, having run 10.73 to finish third at Trials. Zane Branco (QLD) also ran a personal best on 1 July of 10.33 but declined a 100m spot to concentrate on the 200m.
Azzopardi, 18, has been competing in athletics for many years but didn’t take it seriously until he was 17. He has made huge inroads since then posting big improvements over 100m, 200m and long jump in early 2017. He looked likely to achieve the 100m World U20 10.55 standard over the 2017/18 season, running 10.50 with a +2.1m/s wind in February. However, he couldn’t manage a legal time in Australia and finished third at Trials so his ticket to Tampere was booked in the 4x100m relay. Now he gets a chance to produce another fast time in the individual 100m.
The 100m heats will be run in the first session of the Championships on 10 July. Semi-finals and finals will take place in the evening session on day two (Wednesday, 11 July).
200m – Branco backs himself for 200m success
The multi-talented Zane Branco (QLD) has decided to bypass the long jump (7.61m) and 100m (10.33s) at the World U20s to concentrate on the 200m, where he has made huge improvement and holds the 200m U18 Australian record of 20.90s, with Olympians Darren Clarke and Paul Greene.
He ran 20.90s in September 2017, incredibly bypassing 21 seconds to go from 22.05 to 20.90 in one race. Then after turning 18 in January he ran 20.68s at U20 Trials, to become the fourth-fastest Australian U20 in history. His 20.68 is the fifth-fastest time on the provisional entries for Tampere with American Eric Harrison posting 20.39s in May.
The best Australian result in the 200m over the history of the U20s is Steve McBain (SA) bronze in 1986, and since then Scott Thom (VIC) was fifth in 1998 and head coach on this team for Tampere, Paul Pearce (VIC) who was sixth in 1996.
The 200m heats are in the morning of day three (Thursday, 12 July), the semi-finals are that evening and hopefully we’ll see Branco in the final in the evening of day four (Friday, 13 July).
Branco who was born and raised in America got his first taste of the sport when he started Little Athletics on the Sunshine Coast. By aged 15 he was already jumping seven metres in long jump and posting fast sprint times. He is also a member of the Australian 4x100m relay squad which starts their campaign on day five (Saturday 14 July).
400m – Davis ready for one-lap flyer
Victorian Christian Davis will represent Australian over 400m in Tampere. The 18-year-old, coached by Anula Costa in Melbourne, has made significant progress after making athletics his focus from 2015.
He reached national level soccer in 2014. He has improved from 50.2s to 46.44s, which he ran to make the final of the 2018 National Championships/Commonwealth Games trials. With and in a sign of his endurance also consistently runs sub 1:50 for 800m.
Although he did compete in Little Athletics he was also playing soccer, reaching national level in 2014. The following year was when his athletic ability came to the fore. In his first year he ran 50.2 and an impressive 1:51.01 over 800m but within a year he had smashed those bests, his 400m down to 48.18 and 1:49.04 for 800m. Although his 800m was better at that stage, he switched his focus to the shorter event and by 2018 was down to 46.44 after four years of steady progression. That time, set on his way to the final of the 2018 National Championships/Commonwealth Games trials made him the fastest Australian junior for three years, His 800m remains very handy, with Christian still running sub-1:50 each year.
His time of 46.44 is the 18th fastest on the provision entry lists. Jamaican sensation Christian Taylor won his senior national title with 44.88. Taylor also has the fastest time in the world for 200m (20.38s) but is concentrating on the 400m.
Davis who will also run the 4x400m in Tampere is studying Applied Science at Deakin University, is a Torres Strait Islander and speaks Croatian, as his mother’s family are from Croatia.
Australia has a great tradition in this event. Miles Murphy won the 400m (45.64s) at the first World U20s in Athens in 1986. Steve Perry (NSW) won silver in 1988, and 10 years later Casey Vincent (VIC) did the same. In 2012 Steve Solomon (NSW) won the bronze on his way to making the London Olympic final.
The Australian U20 record of 44.75s was set by Darren Clark (NSW) when he finished fourth at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.
800m – Raper and Wallis chasing further improvement in Finland
Lachlan Raper (NSW) and Archie Wallis (VIC) held off a field of strong challengers at the U20 Trials to go 1-2 and book their place on the Australian Junior Team. The 18-year-olds will make their international debut in Tampere and cannot wait for the challenge.
Raper has made tremendous progress in the past few seasons dropping his personal best from 1:59.35 in 2015 to 1:54.54 the next year, under coach Ben Liddy in Sydney. At the start of the 2017/18 summer season he owned a best mark of 1:52.61 and would have been considered a long shot to qualify for the World U20s (standard 1:50.00). However, in November 2017 he became the first qualifier with a massive personal best time of 1:49.98. He proved it was no fluke with another qualifier and a best time in February of 1:49.96. At the Trials he was supreme, running yet another lifetime best of 1:49:59 and winning a highly competitive race to secure automatic selection.
In 2016, Wallis reduced his personal best from 1:51.34 to 1:49.51, under the U20s standard but before the qualifying period started. He and coach Sean Whipp decided to chase a fast time at the Nationals/Commonwealth Trials in February and it worked as he registered fourth in his heat in 1:49.92. This meant he had the standard ahead of the U20 Trials and now needed a top-two finish, which he achieved behind Raper.
Raper (1:49.59) has the 23rd fastest entry in the provisional lists and Wallis (1:49.92) is 29th. Ethiopian Tadese Lemi has the leading time in 2018 of 1:46.00.
Paul Byrne (VIC) set the Australian Record of 1:45.91 in 1995, after winning the World U20 title in 1994. In the 1990s Byrne was not alone on the World U20 podium. In 1992, Brendan Hanigan (TAS) won bronze as did Grant Cremer in Sydney in 1996. In recent years James Kaan (NSW) was eighth in 2008.
The 800m heats in Tampere are on day four (Friday, 13 July) with the semi-finals in the evening on day five (Saturday, 14 July). If the Aussies can make the final it is the last individual race of the meet on Sunday 15 July.
1500m – Clifford to create history as Davies chases final
Jaryd Clifford will create history in Tampere when he becomes the first Australian Paralympian to compete at an able-bodied athletics world championship. The 19-year-old was born with a degenerative eye condition – Juvenile Macular Degeneration – and is legally blind.
He is a T12 class Paralympic athlete due to his visual impairment. He made tremendous progress after being identified by an Australian Paralympic Committee talent scout in 2013. He first competed for Australia at the IPC World Championships in 2015, and placed seventh over 5,000m.
In 2016 he was seventh again in the 1500m and 5,000m at the Rio Paralympic Games. In 2017 he won a bronze in the 1500m at the World Para Athletics Championships and commenced the 2017/18 season targeting selection for the World U20 Championships in the 5000m but missed the standard by seven seconds.
At the March 2018 Junior Championships/Trials he defeated a quality 1500m field to take victory with a time of 3:49.16, but unfortunately remained outside the qualifying standard of 3:48.00. He was invited to race the Sydney Track Classic to be held 24 hours later (his third race in 50 hours) and ran a magnificent 3:45.18. His time is pending ratification as the IPC T12 World Record. He’s coached by Philo Saunders.
Davies, who will turn 19 just after the Champs, can learn from his experienced teammate. Originally, Davies only competed in cross country and in just his second season on the track in 2015 aged 16, he ran a personal best 1500m time of 4:01.33. His progression continued over the next few years to 3:56.10 (2016) and 3:53.32 in early 2017. Striving for the 3:48 standard as well as competing with a strong group of other very capable athletes he became the second athlete to achieve the standard clocking 3:47.89 in January 2018. At the Australian U20 Championships/Trials, in March, he placed second to secure selection.
Davies who is coached by Brian Chapman improved his personal best to 3:47.61 in Townsville in June. The Exercise and Sports Science student from University of Queensland in Brisbane will learn a lot when he takes on the mighty Kenyans and Ethiopians in Tampere.
The Australian U20 Record of 3:37.24 is held by Olympic finalist Ryan Gregson from 2009. In 2008, Gregson was fifth at the World U20s which is the equal best placing by an Australian at the championships. Michael Power (VIC) in 1994 and Zac Patterson (VIC) in 2014 also finished fifth.
The 1500m heats will be run during the opening session of the World U20s on Tuesday 10 July with the final in the evening on day three (Thursday 12 July).
Torley chasing top-10 in 10,000m
Joshua Torley from the ACT will become only the second Australian male to contest the 10,000m at a World U20s. The first was Stephen Spiers (WA) who finished 10th in 1986.
Torley was selected for the World U20 Championships after a sensational performance at the Zatopek race in December where he clocked 29:58.94 to place 14th. This performance was 50 seconds under the standard for Tampere, Finland. This time is the 10th fastest of the field in Finland with two athletes having broken 28 minutes.
Torley, who is coached by his father Paul, has plenty of speed on his side. He pursued the qualifying standards in the 1500m and 5000m of 3:48.00 and 14:15 respectively. He ran 3:51 and a tantalisingly close 14:15.22. Over the 1500m he was not able to match his pre-qualifying period best of 3:45.54.
The 19-year-old has been achieving great results on the road and track for several years. As a 13-year-old he may have broken an unofficial world record for his age when he ran 33:29 in a 10km Canberra Fun Run.
The 10,000m final will be the last event held in the evening on day one of competition (Tuesday, 10 July).
400m Hurdles – Murrant eyes final with South African star
Victorian Harvey Murrant needed to improve nearly two seconds last summer to achieve the World U20s qualifying standard. Not only did he achieve that goal he is now determined to improve further at the championships and push for a place in the final.
His spree of personal bests began in January by improving his 400m flat time. He then achieved a run of bests over the hurdles, breaking or equalling his best in four consecutive races. On a windy February day in Melbourne he nailed the World U20 standard clocking 51.95s. He secured automatic selection in March when he won the U20 World trials.
Murrant is an Exercise and Sports Science student at Deakin University and coached by Joe Gulli. If all things go to plan he’ll have a very big schedule in Finland.
The 400m hurdles heats will be run during the morning session on day three (Thursday, 12 July), semi-finals in the evening on day four (Friday, 13 July) and the final in the evening of day five (Saturday, 14 July). Murrant is also part of the 4x400m relay team which races on the final day of competition (Sunday, 15 July).
South African Sokwakhana Zazini won the World U18 Championships in 2017 and has a best for 2018 of 49.32s. He is over half a second quicker than the rest of the field and already been touted as a senior star.
Rohan Robinson (VIC) set the Australian U20 record of 49.73s when he won the World U20 title in 1990. He went on to be a dual Olympian, finishing fifth at Atlanta 1996. Peter Bate (VIC) is the other Australian medallist in this event at World U20s, winning bronze in 1998.
10,000m Walk – Tingay and Swan are experienced and fast
The next generation of Australian racing walking stars are Declan Tingay (WA) and Kyle Swan (VIC). They’ll need to wait until day five of competition (14 July) to race the gruelling and tactical 25 laps but based on their recent form it will be worth the wait.
Tingay, 19, got a taste for international competition when he raced at the IAAF World Race Walking Teams Challenge in China, despite a time penalty during the race, he still recorded a 10km road walk personal best of 42:01 to place 14th.
In March, he won the Australian U20 Championships/Trials in a 61 second best of 41:07.88. This sensational time was just outside Olympic medallist Dane Bird-Smith’s national record of 41:02.18 from 2011. It was the second occasion he had just missed a national record after he clocked 20:08.1 in the 5000m walk in 2017, just 1.2 seconds outside the Australian mark. Over the last four years, under the watchful eye of his coach and father Steve, he has steadily improved his 10,000m walk personal best by a minute or so each year.
Swan was runner-up to Tingay at the U20 Trials but it was enough to secure his Tampere selection and his resume is similarly impressive. At the Race Walking Team Championships in China in May the 19-year-old smashed his personal best, down to 41:44 to place a fantastic 10th.
Swan made his international debut in 2015 at the IAAF World Youth Championships and competed in 2016 at the IAAF World Race Walking Teams Championships. He is coached by Brent Vallance who was the man behind Jared Tallent’s Olympics medals in Beijing and London, amongst other success stories.
The Australians are expected to be in the mix of the top 10. Nathan Deakes (VIC) is the only Australian to win a medal at the World U20s when he was third in 1996. Bird-Smith was fifth in 2010 and Olympian Nick Ahern was seventh in 1988.
4x100m relay team flying ahead of big test
With the flurry of personal bests, including Jake Doran’s Australian U20 Record of 10.15s last weekend, the Australian men’s 4x100m relay team are buoyed by knowing they are in top form.
The combination of Joshua Azzopardi (NSW), Tom Agnew (ACT), Harrison Hunt (SA) and Doran (QLD) combined to clock a quick 40.07 in their last official hit-out in Finland before moving to Tampere.
Azzopardi will also contest the individual 100m after securing his lane with a 10.41 as entries were being finalise. The squad also included Zane Branco (QLD) who ran 10.33s last weekend and chose to focus on the individual 200m and the relay.
The team will be planning for a clean heat run on evening of day four (Friday, 13 July) to qualify for the final the following evening (Saturday, 14 July).
In 1996 the team of Paul Pearce (VIC), David Baxter (VIC), Paul di Bella (QLD) and Peter Missingham (NSW), with Matt Shirvington (NSW) the reserve, won bronze. Australia also placed fifth in 2012 and 2016.
4x400m Relay - Fired up for fitting finale
The men’s 4x400m relay team for Tampere comprises Christian Davies (VIC) who will run the individual 400m, Harvey Murrant (VIC) who will run the 400m hurdles, Adam Kopp (WA) who was selected for the relay, and other team members to be confirmed. Unfortunately the selected Tyler Gunn sustained a hamstring injury and was unable to take his place on the team.
Kopp has encountered more challenges than most growing up. Aged three he was diagnosed with PDD – NOS (Autism spectrum) and aged 15 with motor dyspraxia. Despite this, he has consistently improved his 400m time over the last three years from 51.44 to 47.53 in the 400 metres. He started the summer of 2017/18 with a best of 48.07 seconds and has dipped under the 48 second barrier on six occasions with a best of 47.53.
In 1998, Australia’s team Bryce Barnwell (VIC), Daniel Batman (NSW), Daniel McFarlane (QLD), Scott Thom (VIC), Casey Vincent (VIC) won the World U20s title and set the Australian U20 Record 3:04.74. Australia have also won silver in 1998 and bronze in 1990
The heats will be held on the morning of day five (Saturday, 14 July) and the final is the last race of the World U20s (Sunday, 15 July).
Look out for the final event previews for the World U20s, the women's track events, as we countdown to Tampere 2018, 10-15 July.
Andrew Reid for Athletics Australia
Statistics and superlatives David Tarbotton
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