MacFarlane, whose long time coach and mentor Max Cherry passed away last month, produced the race of her career to clock 9min 18.35 seconds.
The time is the eighth fastest ever for the event that will make its Olympic debut in Beijing and sliced nearly six seconds off Melissa Rollison’s national mark of 9:24.29 set at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. MacFarlane’s previous best of 9:25.05 was set in winning the bronze behind Rollison’s silver in Melbourne.
In a race billed as “the greatest women’s steeplechase field ever assembled”, the race was won by world record holder Gulnara Galkina of Russia in 9min14.77sec; world champion Yekaterina Volkova of Russia was second in 9:18.24.
MacFarlane ran a controlled race and moved through the field to lie in sixth place with two laps remaining before beginning to make her presence felt on the final lap.
With Galkina outside her own world record (9:01.59) but still with a comfortable lead, MacFarlane moved into fourth place in the finishing straight. Despite knocking her knee and stumbling away from the last barrier, she recovered quickly and in a sprint finish was narrowly held out by world champion Volkova in a finish that saw 0.19 seconds separating second to fourth.
“It’s not often that I get out sprinted to the line, but I had the world champion in my sights and I was a bit eager to beat her,” an ecstatic MacFarlane said after the race.
“In the end I hit my knee and was lucky to stay on my feet.”
MacFarlane, 30, who is now guided by Cathy Freeman’s former coach Peter Fortune, has been based in Belgium for the past fortnight, travelling with husband Marty and her two children Marcella, 6, and Gabriel, 3, in order to have the best possible Games build-up.
“It was special for me to run well in Oslo because Max was here with me last year,” MacFarlane said in reference to her former coach.
“I am so pleased to finally get the Australian record, because it is something I have been thinking about and hoping to achieve since the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. I've tried to break it a few times on my own, but I don't run as well against the clock as when I'm in a racing situation.
“I haven't had many competitive races over the steeples in my career, and I was lucky tonight that we had great competition and warm, still conditions. Given that, I am not surprised that I ran as fast as I did. I felt reasonably comfortable and in control tonight and I'm confident I can improve on my new time, given the right conditions. It gives me confidence to know that I have moved up a level in the steeplechase and I'm delighted to be finally out of the low 9.30's,” MacFarlane said.
After a disastrous world championships campaign is Osaka last year, where she lost her shoe just 50m from the start line in her opening heat, MacFarlane is putting together an impressive string of performances, including World Athletic Tour wins in Melbourne and Doha and now a podium finish and Australian record in Oslo.
In other Australian results, Queenslander Mitch Kealey had a major breakthrough, recording a personal best and Olympic A-qualifier of 3:36.21 to finish second in the 1500m. With the focus in Oslo on the Dream Mile, Kealey made the most of the opportunity to finish behind Thomas Lancaster (GBR) who clocked 3:35.38. Kealey’s time was the 10th fastest time by an Australian and improves on his previous best of 3:37.65 set in Sydney earlier this year.
For the rest of the Australian contingent the results in the rarefied Golden League air in Oslo were mixed.
John Steffensen clocked 46.19 for second place in the B 400m won by Great Britain’s Robert Tobin in 46.17. World and Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner won the A race in a slick 43.98.Victorian Jeff Riseley ran an Olympic B-qualifier of 1.46.40 to finish sixth in the 800m. In a super fast race, the winner, world indoor champion Abubaker Kaki of Sudan, set a world junior record of 1:42.69.
Kenyan newcomer Pamela Jelimo was again too strong in the 800m, winning in 1:55.41. World indoor champion Tamsyn Lewis improved on her time in Berlin (2:02.05) to record 2:01.06 to finish eighth.
Melissa Rollison finished 18th in the steeplechase in 10:20.73.
The major highlight in Olso was the world 5000m record set by Tirunesh Dibaba. The Ethiopian broke free of the field two kilometres from the finish to set a time of 14 minutes 11.15 seconds, knocking more than five seconds off the mark of 14:16.63 set by her compatriot, Meseret Defar, last year.
On Sunday night (Monday AEST) Craig Mottram takes on world 1500m and 5000m champion Bernard Lagat of the USA in a two mile battle at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. Lisa Corrigan (1500m), Collis Birmingham (two miles) and Eloise Wellings (5000m) will also be in action.
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