Another great night of athletics for the Australian athletes at the Birmingham Diamond League, in the stadium where the Commonwealth Games will be held in four years. Highlights were an Australian women’s 1000m record to Brittany McGowan, an Aussie 1-2 in the men’s mile with Stewart McSweyn and Ryan Gregson, and a significant personal best in the high jump by Brandon Starc.
The Alexander Stadium in Birmingham was the setting for the resumption of the 2018 Diamond League circuit ahead of the two finals in Zurich (30 August) and Brussels (31 August).
In personal best 800m form this year and strong over 1500m, the national 1000m record certainly looked in the grasp of Queensland’s McGowan. In a very strong field for a non-Diamond League event, the pace was on from the start with the field strung out and McGowan near the tail of the field for most of the race.
“The pace was set to be very fast so I judged myself off that and wanted to run my own race,” said a jubilant McGowan, who picked off a number of athletes as she steamed home to claim the record in a time of 2:37.80, just under Zoe Buckman’s old mark of 2:37.84.
“I am so happy to get the Australian record today.”
For McGowan, the season started way back in February at the Commonwealth Games trials when she set an 800m PB of 2:00.24.
“It’s been a really long season so it’s great to have some good races left in my legs.”
After a lean 2017, Starc’s 2018 campaign continues to dazzle. Both by height and place, with the Commonwealth Games champion compiling a momentous series of performances, and in this form the 21-year-old national record of 2.36m in under threat.
In Birmingham, the New South Welshman raised his PB by one centimetre to 2.33m with a second up clearance for the win, before passing 2.36m to take three attempts at 2.37m. Starc was on his second trip to Europe this season.
“I arrived into the UK on Monday to have a couple days to get over the jet lag and I think it was a great decision,” Starc said.
“I felt ok going into the comp but as it began I started to feel quite good. The run up wasn’t quite perfect throughout the comp but it is a work in progress and in the end I got a decent one on the board for the 2.33.”
After successful clearances at 2.16, 2.20, 2.24 and 2.27m, he missed his first attempt at 2.30m, then passed to 2.33m and again missed on his first attempt. He had one more attempt remaining and faced the prospect of placing third with a height of ‘just‘ 2.27m, but he made a clutch jump clearance at 2.33m to take the lead and eventually win.
“It wasn’t too bad, I think it was one of the better run ups of the comp and took off in a decent position and got up there. I know I hit it and it wobbled, luckily it stayed on.
“A PB and a diamond league win, can’t complain with that. Great start to this European trip!”
An understatement by Starc whose leap was the best by an Australian for 21 years and elevated him to equal seventh in the world this year.
But he didn’t rest there raising the bar to 2.37m - above the national record.
“My attempts at 2.37m were ok, and it was nice to have a look at it. Last attempt was the best but didn’t quite hit it the same.”
As he has done in previous Diamond League appearances he mixed it with the world’s very best, including disposing of European champion, Germany’s Mateusz Prybylko. With the world’s top-two ranked finished for the year, Starc looks a strong podium hope, if not the top-step, for the Diamond League final and Continental Cup.
It was highly likely that McSweyn would continue his barnstorming personal best season in the Emsley Carr mile in Birmingham. However for the Tasmanian to defeat his training partner Gregson and a win the race would have been long odds. He was too good though and clocked 3:54.60 to slice more than one second from his PB.
We know he is strong in the 5000m, 10,000m and steeplechase but his form over the shorter distance has been a surprise this calendar year.
“It is only the second mile I have ever officially run the distance,” McSweyn said, about his performance which moved him up to number 11 Australian all-time.
“I have never raced here before so it was going to be a good experience no matter what, but to perform well and get a PB I am pretty happy with that.”
Gregson was only half a second back in 3:55.10 and Jordy Williamsz (VIC), the third member of the Melbourne Track Club squad, was sixth in 3:56.92.
The Australians claimed a few impressive scalps including two-time Olympic 1500m medallist Nick Willis (NZL) and Olympic 5000m medallist Paul Chelimo (KEN).
Maybe a little rusty, but Henry Frayne (QLD) competing in the non-Diamond League long jump event, still managed to maintain his most consistent season of his career, with his ninth consecutive eight metre competition.
“A slightly disappointing result today with 8.01m for third,” Frayne said.
“Conditions were okay, atmosphere was pretty good and my body felt good, however I just didn’t have much spring in my legs. I can only really put it down to the funny mid-season break I have had due to the European Championships being run.
"I hope that this competition will just act as a blow out before Zurich and Ostrava in the next few weeks, which was the plan, and that I’ll return to jumping some bigger jumps in the coming weeks.”
Frayne has never been able to endure such a long campaign and has frequently broken down well before this.
“On a positive note, as I mentioned, my body felt good and I was hitting the board more consistently today. It’s another 8m result albeit just, and I’m healthy.”
Greg Rutherford, a friendly rival of Frayne, didn’t have his fairy tale career ending. The former world and Olympic champion was eighth as the curtain came down on an outstanding career..
Consistency is the word that would also define the late European season form of national steeplechase record holder Genevieve LaCaze (QLD). In her last three races, all at 3000m, she has run 8:50.02, 8:50.09 and 8:50.19 – the later for 13th place in Birmingham. All three marks are under her pre-2018 PB of 8:52.
In the race, LaCaze was just off the lead pack until the penultimate lap, when the kick down started. She did well to run on for a near PB.
In the wash-up of the results, the following is the status for the Australians chasing berths in the Diamond League finals:
Qualified: McSweyn (TAS) 5000m, Brooke Stratton (VIC) and Henry Frayne (QLD) in long jump; Kurtis Marschall (WA) in the pole vault, Kelsey Barber (ACT) in the javelin and high jumper Starc (NSW).
Linden Hall (VIC) and Ryan Gregson (VIC) both went close but will miss 1500m berths.
Full Birmingham Diamond League results here>>
David Tarbotton for Athletics Australia