The women’s track squad for the IAAF World U20 Championships is the largest section of the 54-strong Australian Team with 17 athletes competing across 11 individual events and the 4x100m and 4x400m relays. Some of these junior stars have World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Youth Games experience but most are making their international debut in Tampere, Finland next week (10-15 July).
In the fifth and final preview of the series we take a brief look at each athlete wearing the green and gold, event by event.
100m and 200m – Day and Gross to face world’s best speed test
The 100m will be the first race for Riley Day (QLD) and Mia Gross (VIC) at the U20 Worlds in Tampere, before contesting the 200m and 4x100m relay.
They both have international experience to help them fire at their best at these Championships.
Day at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games won the 200m and finished with silver in the 100m. She also raced the 200m at the 2017 World Championships and the 200m and 4x100m at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. She has been the outstanding junior sprinter in her age in Australia for over six years.
The Queenslander, who recently turned 18, has a personal best for the 100m of 11.50 from the U20 Trials in March and 22.93 to win the 200m at the Commonwealth Games Trials in February. Day’s slick 200m time, set when still only 17, is impressive with just Raelene Boyle and Jenny Lamy the only Australians who have ever been faster as juniors. Those times were set in the high altitude at the Mexico 1968 Olympics when the Australians finished with silver and bronze respectively. Boyle’s 22.74 that day is still the U18 and U20 record 50 years later.
If Day can reproduce her 200m best she’ll be in the finals mix. American Lauren Williams has an entry time of 22.51 for the 200m and her teammate Twanisha Terry a 10.99!!! Day is coached by Donna Thomas and deferred university study this year.
Gross is still only 17 and has been an outstanding junior for 10 years. She has been on the podium domestically from 100m to 400m. In 2017 she had a massive breakthrough when she set big personal bests of 11.71 (100m), 23.83 (200m) and 54.08 (400m). At the 2017 National Junior Championships, only Riley Day could defeat her when taking silver in the U18 100m. She was selected for the Bahamas Commonwealth Youth Games but unfortunately while warming up for the 100m heats she collided with an athlete from Botswana, breaking a bone in her arm.
Incredibly that didn’t stop her from competing and competing well, missing the final by one place. She had another tremendous campaign in 2018, consistently posting times around 11.80, she won silver in the Commonwealth Games trials. She won the U20 sprint double in March and secured automatic selection for Tampere. Her 100m best remains at 11.71 from 2017 and her 200m at 23.40 from January in Canberra. Gross is coached by Joe Gulli in Geelong along with 400m hurdles representative Harvey Murrant.
Day and Gross have very busy schedules. The heats of the 100m are on the morning of day two (Wednesday, 11 July), while semis and final are in the evening of day three (Thursday, 12 July). On day four (Friday, 13 July) the 200m heats are in the morning, then the women will return in the evening for the heats of the 4x100m relay and semis for the 200m. On day five (Saturday, 14 July) they would hope to be racing in the 4x100m final and 200m final. Finally on the last day of the championships they get to cheer on their teammates.
The best results by Australian women in the 100m at the U20 Worlds have been a bronze medal to Sally Pearson (QLD) in 2004 (11.40) and 8th by Lauren Hewitt (VIC) in 1996. Cathy Freeman (VIC) won 200m silver in 1992 (23.25) and Hewitt emulated that feat in 1996 (23.32) .
Connolly chasing 400m finals berth on eve of 18th birthday
Australian women have had made the 400m podium twice at the U20s with Jana Pittman (NSW) winning the title in 2000 and Rosemary Hayward (NSW) won the bronze in Sydney in 1996. Jessica Thornton (NSW) was fourth in 2016 (52.05).
Queensland’s outstanding all-round sprinter Ella Connolly will be trying to build on her success at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games when she won silver in the 400m, running a personal best of 52.72. She was added to the 2017 World Championships 4x400m relay team and ran a fantastic flying 52.2 split in the heat, where the team just missed the final.
Connolly’s Commonwealth Games prospects were dashed by injury early in the 2017/18 season but she resumed competition in late February and later won the 400m at the Australian U20 Championships/Trials, securing automatic selection for Tampere.
She is coached by Gary Patterson and comes from a talented family as brother Josh is an outstanding high jumper having competed in the event at the 2016 World U20s.
Connolly will run the 400m heats in the evening on day one (Tuesday, 10 July) and semis on the evening of day two (Wednesday, 11 July). She turns 18 on 13 July so a place in the final on Thursday 12 July would be a sensation achievement and the perfect birthday present. The 4x400m relay heat is on the Saturday the 14th with the final on the last day of competition (Sunday, 15 July).
Indian Hima Das has the fastest entry time of 51.32. Cathy Freeman’s Australian U20 record from 1992 is 51.14.
Russell and Thomas expected to be in the 800m hunt
Jemima Russell (VIC) and Carley Thomas (NSW) will represent Australia at the World U20s in the 800m and 4x400m relay.
Thomas is just 17 and completing her final year of high school this year. However, she has international experience and two golds from the 800m and 4x400m at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games.
She is coached by Penny Gillies in Sydney and had a tremendous summer season as she continued her progression with big personal bests over 800m and 400m. In December she took 1.38 seconds off her 800m best to clock a stunning 2:03.66 and closed out the 2018 summer with a 400m best of 53.95. She secured automatic selection for Tampere by winning the U20 Trials.
Russell was second at the Trials to secure her selection and finish another strong domestic season. The 19-year-old’s international debut will be made much easier with the experience of her coach Peter Fortune, who guided Cathy Freeman for many years, and her mother Sharon (nee Stewart) who was one of Australia’s finest ever 400m/800m athletes.
She is following in her mother’s footsteps. While her 400m times have been steady, around 55 seconds, over the last four years, she has really progressed over the two laps to an outstanding 2:04.89. She is now in the top-20 Australian juniors of all-time.
Australia has had success in this event at past World U20s. Georgie Clarke (VIC) won silver in 2000 and in 2014 Georgia Wassall (NSW) was third and Georgia Griffith (VIC) fourth.
Russell and Thomas will race the 800m heats in the first morning session on Tuesday 10 July, with the semi-finals in the evening of day two (Wednesday, 11 July). Reaching the final on Thursday 12 July would be fantastic. An American and Ethiopian have broken 2:01 this year.
The 4x400m relay heat is on the Saturday the 14th with the final on the last day of competition (Sunday, 15 July).
Eckel and Caldwell chasing 1500m final
Sarah Eckel (SA) and Abbey Caldwell (VIC) will represent Australia in the 1500m at the World U20s, with both athletes making significant progress last summer to secure selection.
Over 800m Eckel reduced her best by over 2.5 seconds to 2:05.24 but it was in the 1500m where she really made progress. In her first six races she ran five personal bests with her 4:14.11 standard being set when seventh in the Commonwealth Games trials, becoming the eighth fastest junior in Australian history. With three qualifying times under her belt heading into the Trials she claimed the 1500m title ahead of a very strong field and secured automatic selection.
Eckel is coached by Adam Didyk who also coaches marathon star Jess Trengove. She followed in the footsteps of her sister Sophie, who runs in the NCAA in the USA, into the sport.
Over the last four years, Caldwell made excellent and consistent progress over 1500m and 3000m, reducing her 1500m time by 24 seconds and her 3000m time by 33 seconds. In February 2018 she made her first attempt to qualify for the IAAF World U20 Championships in the 3000m trial in Sydney. Despite running a three second best she placed third just short of selection.
In pursuit of the 1500m standard, she ran 4:22.30 in early March 2018, less than a second outside qualification. In her last chance to achieve the standard at the Australian U20 Championships/Trials she placed second in 4:21.00 – achieving the standard and earning selection for the Australian team.
Caldwell, who is coached by Gavin Burren, just turned 17 last week while preparing with the Team in Finland.
Eckel’s best time has her ranked inside the top 10 and Caldwell just outside the top 20. Ethiopian Alemaz Samuel is miles out in front on qualifying time with an impressive 4:01.78 from the Doha Diamond League.
The women’s 1500m heats are on the morning of day four (Friday 13 July), with the final in the last session of competition on Sunday 15 July.
Georgie Clarke (VIC) is the only Australian medallist in this event at the World U20s. She won bronze in 2000. Brooke Simpson (QLD) was fifth in 2004 and Bridey Delaney (NSW) fifth also in 2008.
Mazza-Downie and Crouch finally get their 3,000m chance
The women’s 3000m at the IAAF U20 World Championships will be a straight final and Amelia Mazza-Downie (VIC) and Lara Crouch (QLD) will be representing Australia. This was the most competitive event to qualify for the Australian Team, with seven athletes having the qualifying standard going into Trials, which should benefit these athletes at the World U20s.
Mazza-Downie, 18, started in the trial ranked fifth fastest over the summer but won a tactical race in a 9:34.70 to confirm automatic selection. She was selected in 2016 but a stress fracture in her hip ruled her out.
Incredibly as a 13-year-old she ran 9:38.76 in the 3000m before enjoying another big improvement two years later in 2014, clocking a stunning 9:14.13. That season she competed at the IAAF World Youth (U18) Championships where she placed 14th.
In 2017 she represented Australia at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships competing in the U20 race where she placed 35th. The Nic Bideau coached athlete indicated she was in good form, lowering her 1500m in June before departing Australia, then again in Finland last week.
Crouch is another athlete who has been one of Australia’s leading junior distance runners for several years. She went close to being selected in the 1500m and 3,000m for Tampere, and she doesn’t turn 17 until the end of next month. Making her the second youngest member of the Australian Team in Tampere.
When she was 13 she ran 4:26.96 for 1500m. Consistently running sub 4:30 she also brought her 800m PB down to 2:10. In mid-2017 and with the 2018 IAAF World U20 Championships on the horizon, she compiled a tremendous series of 1500m and 3000m performances. She started with 9:38 in July, then 9:34 in October, before running a massive personal best of 9:17.33 at NSW 3000m Championships. Under the pressure of the Trials Crouch finished a brilliant second, in a tactically-slow time of 9:35.36.
Her and coach Jayden Russ had got their peak right and two weeks later she destroyed her 1500m best with a time of 4:18.56 – well under the World U20 Champs standard. A month later at the trials and national U20 1500m championship, she placed third with less than one second separating second to fourth. The following week she was named in the 3000m for the IAAF World U20 Championships.
Susie Power (VIC) won Australia’s solo medal in this event, with silver medal in 1994, two years after finishing eighth. In 2014, Jessica Hull (NSW) placed seventh to join Power as the two Australian top-8 placegetters at these championships. Donna Gould still holds the Australian U20 Record of 8:44.1 from 1984 in Eugene, USA.
OJ targeting sub-16 in 5,000m final
Clio Ozanne-Jaques (QLD), nickname OJ, will race the 5,000m final in the evening of day one of competition (Tuesday, 10 July). The 18-year-old wants to run a personal best and break 16 minutes. She goes into Tampere with a personal best of 16:13.82 but considering the she has dropped almost 90 seconds over the past year it is very possible.
Sub-16 would likely be a top-10 finish and the only Australian to finish top-10 was in 2014 when Courtney Powell (VIC) was seventh.
The Queenslander who was born in Sydney is something of a globe trotter. She has lived in France and Japan for a total of eight years, competed for Australia in Uganda at the World Cross Country Championships and is studying at university in America.
Coached in Australia by British dual-Olympian Jill Boltz in Cairns, she started running in the ‘Pace Project’ running group eight years ago. A few months after a second place in the 3000m at the 2016 Australian junior championships, she headed off to America to study at the University of Mississippi. Some solid cross-country performances gained her selection in the Australian team for the 2017 IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
This summer in America, she has dropped her 5,000m time from 17:41 to 16:13.82 and earned selection for the IAAF World U20 Championships.
Her father Troy Jaques played for the Wallabies and captained the Brumbies (Rugby Union) and was a national swimming champion.
100m Hurdles - Bringing fast flat speed to the hurdles
Lateisha Willis (VIC) and Samantha Johnson (QLD) are top quality sprinters who have focussed on the 100m hurdles in recent years with great success.
After a great 2016 Willis continued her form and won a silver medal at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas. The 2017/18 summer season was challenging. She injured her back back (sciatic nerve) missing much of the season, then upon return injured her Achilles and was out for another month. She also had to move up to the senior hurdle height.
Two weeks before the Australian U20 Championships/Trials, she nailed the mark by 0.02 clocking 13.76. At the championships she placed second behind heptathlete Celeste Mucci in a very strong field and the next week was named in the team. Injury free, she ran a personal best 13.59 in June prior to departing Australia.
Johnson timed her run for qualification for Tampere 2018 to perfection. In 2017 she ran a best of 14.02 in one of her first attempts at the new U20 hurdle height of 84cm as she strived for the qualifying standard of 13.78 for the World U20s. In the heats of her State championships she lowered her personal best to 13.91, before lining up in the final at the Australian U20 Championships/Trials, her last opportunity to achieve the qualifying standard. She performed very well, placing third and clocking a massive best of 13.76, just 0.02 seconds under the standard. Although placing third she was named in one of the two team positions as the winner was heptathlete Celeste Mucci.
Hurdling legend Sally Pearson (QLD) was fourth at the World U20s in 2004. Olympian and Commonwealth finalist Michelle Jenneke (NSW) was fifth in 2012 and Jacquie Munro (NSW) also fifth in 2000.
The 100m hurdle heats are in the morning on Friday 13 July (day three), with the semi-finals on the evening of Saturday 14 July and the final is in the last session on Sunday July 15.
400m Hurdles - Murphy-Knight and Leszczynska shooting for personal bests
Jarmillia Murphy-Knight (QLD) and Annamaria Leszczynska (ACT) will race the 400m hurdles heats on the second morning (Wednesday 11 July) of the World U20s. The semi-finals are the evening of day three and reaching the final on Friday 13 July would be a sensational achievement.
For both 18-year-olds, achieving selection is the career highlight for both athletes and they want to come away from Tampere with a personal best time.
Murphy-Knight ran her first sub-60 in the semi-final of the senior Nationals in 2017. Embarking on her 2017/18 campaign for selection in the Australian team for the World U20 Championships, she needed to repeat the performance to achieve the qualifying standard of 59.95. Following a series of consistent runs around 61 seconds, at the U20 Trials, she achieved the mark and a personal best of 59.64 to book her place on the Tampere team. She is coached by Diane Sheppard.
In 2016, Leszczynska won the Australian U17 400m hurdles title in a super 60.19. Her next breakthrough came at the 2018 Australian Open Championships/Commonwealth Games trials when she broke 60 seconds for the first time, clocking 58.87, a second under the qualifying standard for the World U20 Championships. At the Australian U20 Championships/Trials in March she placed second and was named in the team for Tampere, Finland.
Born in Poland and schooled both in Poland and Australia, she was a national level basketball player before she focussed on athletics in 2016. She is coached by Suzan Fulop in the ACT.
Jana Pittman won the 400m hurdles U20 title in 2000 (55.20), and incredibly at the same meet won the 400m flat.
3000m Steeplechase - Talented Queensland duo tackle barriers
Queenslanders Montanna McAvoy (QLD) and Brielle Erbacher (QLD) will tackle the challenging 3000m steeplechase in Tampere, Finland. The top placing in this event for Australia at the World U20s was 10th place in 2012 by Tessa Potezny (SA). The Australian U20 Record of 9:30.70 was set in 2001 by Melissa Rollison (QLD).
McAvoy is a very talented all-round sport person. She played hockey and touch football at State level and soccer at National level. For the last ten years she has taken athletics seriously and won national titles at four different distances - 3000m, 5000m and the 2000m & 3000m steeplechase. She won her first national gold in 2016 over 3000m before winning the Australian U18 3000m and 2000m steeplechase events to earn selection for the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas, where she placed fifth in the 3000m.
For the 2017/18 season she embarked on the new event, 3000m steeplechase and in late 2017 ran an impressive 10:20 debut, ten seconds under the standard for the World U20 Championships. She would go on to clock another two standards, including a personal best of 10.10.23 to win the Trials and secure automatic selection. In June, prior to departing for Europe, she again set a new best of 10:03.80 – elevating her to fourth fastest junior in Australian history. If she can reproduce this form she should be in contention for a place in the final.
McAvoy, who turns 18 just after the championships conclude, is coached by Jayden Russ in Cairns.
Townsville’s Erbacher has been competing in athletics for about 10 years but didn’t take on the 3000m steeplechase until January 2017. Later that year she recorded the important qualifier for the IAAF World U20 Championships by clocking 10:27.08.
The 19-year-old further improved her best at the Commonwealth Games trials on the Gold Coast running 10:18.87. Her next challenge would be the World U20 Championships trials in March, where she was competitive, placing second and securing selection. She is coached by her mother Jody and is also an A grade touch football player.
The heats of the 3000m steeplechase will be run in the first session of the championships on Tuesday 10 July and the final in the evening on Friday 13 July.
10,000m Walk - Hayward brings senior international experience
Katie Hayward has made tremendous progress over the last five years and has managed the increase in distance from 3000m to 10,000m very well. In 2016, the Steve Langley-coached walker was super impressive and broke the Australian U18 5000m track walk record, clocking 21:39.03.
In 2017 she stepped up to 10,000m and won the national title in a quick 45:51.09. A year on at the Australian U20 Championships/Trials she defended her title in 45:48.45 to secure selection for not just the the World U20s bur the World Race Walking Teams Championship in China where she was unfortunately disqualified.
The Queenslander started her athletics career as a 10-year-old cross country runner before joining Gold Coast Little Athletics where she discovered race walking.
Hayward has the third fastest time of the year for U20s with just Li Ma (China) and Japan’s Nanako Fujii coming in with faster times with 45:20.59 and 45:24.35 respectively.
Australia's most recent success at the championships has been Regan Lamble’s 8th place in 2010. Lamble went on to represent Australia at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Former World Championships representative Jess Rothwell recorded Australia's best placing when 4th at the 2008 edition of the championships held in Bydgoszcz.
The race will be held on the Saturday 14 July, the penultimate day of the Champs.
4x100m Relay - Flying relay squad hope to emulate Aussie sprinting greats
Nana Owusu-Afriyie VIC is one of five members of the 4 x 100m relay squad and has been flying in the lead-in to Tampere 2018. In Jämsä last week she ran a lifetime best, albeit wind-aided, of 11.49s. The young Victorian is already familiar with international competition, having been a member of the sprint relay team that placed 7th in Bydgoszcz (POL) in 2016.
At the Australian U20 Championships/Trials in March she trimmed her 100m personal best to 11.83 and placed third. Her real progress though was over 200m where at the Trials she smashed her 200m personal best running 23.89 in the heat and a 23.63w in the final, where she placed second.
Nans, as Owusu-Afiyie is better known, will be joined in the relay by Kristie Edwards NSW, Tamara Hotten QLD, Mia Gross VIC and Riley Day QLD.
When your coach is Australian sprinting legend Melinda Gainsford-Taylor, you know you’re getting the best advice to take on the world’s fastest young athletes. That’s the card Kristie Edwards has up her sleeve when she joins her 4x100m teammates in Tampere.
Not only that, her mentor was a finalist in the event back in 1990 when she combined with Rebecca Vormister, Fiona Blair and the great Cathy Freeman to place fifth, Australian equal best effort with the 2000 and 2004 squads in the event.
Edwards has been consistently one of the best sprinters in Australia in her age over the last five years. The 2017/18 season has been her best. In December 2017, she won the nationals schools sprint double in personal best times of 11.79 and 24.03. Three months later at the Commonwealth Games trials she finished an excellent fourth in the 100m. In March she was second in the 100m at the U20 Championships/Trials.
Tamara Hotten (Qld) is an extremely talented sprinter and hurdler and over the last few years she has been on or just off the podium at numerous national championships in the 100m, 200m, 100m hurdles and 200m hurdles. During the 2017/18 season the Gary Patterson-coached sprinter was in top form across three events, 100m, 200m and 100m hurdles.
At the Australian U20 Championships/Trials the Griffith University student blitzed her personal bests in all three events, every time she stepped onto the track and importantly she also recorded her first 200m qualifier (24.07) for the World U20 team. In the finals she placed fourth in all three events to secure selection.
Gross and Day will also run the individual 100m and 200m.
The heats will be held in the evening session on Friday 13 July.The final will be held on Saturday evening 14 July.
4x400m Relay - Connolly joins forces with teammates with squad with 800m strength
It will be with great anticipation to step onto the Tampere track when Cara Jardine QLD prepares for the 4 x 400m.
All of the Queenslanders’ teammates have individual races before they take to the track for the relay.
London 2017 World Champs relay representative Ella Connolly QLD will race in the 400m. While both Carley Thomas and Jemima Russell are entered in the 800m and will bring that “half-mile” strength to the quartet.
Jardine has been consistently one of the best Australian junior 400/800m athletes for four years clocking 54/55 seconds or 2:06/07 for the last three years straight. She was in tremendous form in late 2016 when she sliced over one second from her 400m to win the National All Schools title in 54.39 and set a new 800m personal best of 2:06.68. In the heats of the Australian Commonwealth Games Trials, the Griffith Uni student coached by Judith Jardine stormed to a season best in the 400m of 54.85 earning her place on the relay squad.
One of the more memorable World U20s performances was when the quartet of Kylie Hanigan, Susan Andrews, Sophie Scamps and Renee Poetschka combined to win gold in 1990 in Plovdiv in a super fast 3:30.38 which is still the Australian U20 record nearly 28 years later.
The 4 x 400m heats will be held on Saturday morning 14 July, the second last day of competition. Then the final will be the second-last event of the championships (Sunday, 15 July).
Andrew Reid and Pat Birgan for Athletics Australia
Statistics and superlatives David Tarbotton
Read the other previews ahead of Tampere 2018, 10-15 July.
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