The Sir Graeme Douglas International is the pinnacle one-day athletics meet in New Zealand. Boasting world-class Kiwi talent such as Dame Valerie Adams, Tom Walsh and Nick Willis up against top quality overseas competition the meet on Sunday February 23 is guaranteed to dazzle. We pose ten questions which will be answered on the night.
Will Australia or New Zealand prevail in the men’s 100m?
The blue riband event on the athletics programme will once again create huge interest, in what is expected to be a thrilling Trans-Tasman clash between old rivals Australia and New Zealand. Leading the challenge in the green and gold challenge is Rohan Browning (PB 10.08), who earlier this month blitzed to a wind-aided time of 10.06 in Perth. Jack Hale recorded a swift 10.10 in that same race and also set a legal PB of 10.12 in the rounds, to confirm his credentials. Leading the New Zealand charge is 2020 New Zealand number one Hamish Gill (10.40), an impressive winner over national champion Edward Osei-Nketia at the Potts Classic and New Zealand Resident record-holder Joseph Millar, a 10.18 sprinter at his best. With the Olympic 100m standard set at 10.05 expect fireworks.
Can Nick Willis win on his long-awaited return to Auckland?
The presence of two-time Olympic 1500m medallist Nick Willis in his first competitive appearance in Auckland for five years, is sure to be one of the highlights of the 2020 edition of the Sir Graeme Douglas International. Nick, 36, steps up his preparations in what he hopes will be a fifth successive Olympic appearance in Tokyo later this year. After making a solid seasonal debut to place second in 3:59.89 in an indoor mile race in Boston, his performance in West Auckland will be fascinating to gauge. Leading the opposition are the 2019 Australian 1500m bronze medallist Rorey Hunter and New Zealand’s Eric Speakman (3:37.44), who is back competing after several injury-troubled seasons.
How many men can hurl the spear beyond 80m?
New Zealand champion Ben Langton Burnell faces no less than five overseas throwers with a PB beyond 80m. The 27 year old boasts a best of 82.44m, but he knows he will face a formidable force in Australia’s Hamish Peacock. The 29 year old with a best of 84.39m, is a Rio Olympian and two years ago won silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast. Also lying in opposition are Australia’s 2018 World U20 champion Nash Lowis (80.10m) and compatriots Liam O’Brien (81.36m) and Luke Cann (81.07m). Japan’s Takuto Kominami (81.11m) should also be in the mix.
Will Kurtis end Nick’s Auckland streak?
On all five previous editions of this meeting, Nick Southgate has proved pole vault number one. However, the 25 year old will have to topple world-class opposition to maintain his streak. His main opposition will be Australia’s Commonwealth champion Kurtis Marschall, a 5.87m performer at his best. Kurtis spent the bulk of last season on the sidelines with back and shoulder injuries, but the 22 year old revealed he was in red-hot form with an Olympic qualification effort of 5.80m in Perth earlier this month. Nick, a six-time national champion, is also in good form having posted a 5.40m clearance in Hastings last month, which is his best vault for three years.
Where is Tom placed in his road to Tokyo?
There is little doubt the 2019 world bronze medallist Tom Walsh is one of the main drawcards in Auckland. A two-time world indoor champion, 2016 Olympic bronze medallist and 2017 world outdoor champion, his record in recent years is nothing short of phenomenal. However, his record is patchy at this meet, he finished first in 2016 and 2018, but three times he has to concede defeat - in 2015 to American Ryan Whiting, in 2017 to Olympic champion Ryan Crouser and last year to Pole Konrad Bukowiecki. However, after opening up his 2020 campaign with a handy 21.10m at the Potts Classic in Hastings, he will be expected to rule the roost at the Trusts Arena. Australia’s Damien Birkinhead, a 21.35m thrower at his best, is likely to be the main opposition. Watch out too for Walsh’s training partner Ryan Ballantyne, 21, who posted a PB of 19.33m in Hastings last month.
Can Zoe repel the best of Aussie?
New Zealand’s fastest woman, Zoe Hobbs, will be in action in the 100m and 200m, up against a strong Australian and domestic challenge. The 22 year old Kiwi is in blistering form, after last month running 11.38, within 0.01 of her lifetime best, over 100m at the Potts Classic. The long-standing national 100m record from Michelle Seymour of 11.32, is within touching distance, while another goal would be for the 2019 World Championship representative to bank the 11.15 Olympic qualification time. Zoe faces a strong challenge in both the 100m and 200m led by Australia’s Commonwealth Games semi-finalist Maddie Coates, who boasts a 200m PB of 23.06 – 0.13 faster than the Kiwi.
What can world-class Hitomi Niiya produce in the women’s 5000m?
Japan boast a strong presence of more than 20 athletes competing in Auckland, the pick of whom is Hitomi Niiya, who starts a clear favourite in the women’s 5000m. Niiya is a class-act, a former Tokyo Marathon winner, who finished ninth in the 10,000m final at the London 2012 Olympics and fifth in the 10,000m final at the following year’s World Championships in Moscow. After retiring in 2014 because of ongoing foot issues, she returned to the sport four years later and last month set a Japanese half-marathon record with a dazzling 66:38 in Houston. With a best of 15:10.20 for the distance, expect the 31 year old to be the woman to beat. Second fastest in the field is Australia’s Paige Campbell (15:31.50).
How are Portia’s Tokyo ambitions progressing?
The 2019 season was a huge success for the former heptathlete Portia Bing. The Aucklander, now specialising in the 400m hurdles, set two national records over the distance, posting times of 56.04 and 55.86 during the domestic campaign. It would have been three, after she posted an impressive 55.49 for fourth in heat at the Doha World Championships, only to be disqualified for a hurdle infringement. Chasing an Olympic qualification mark of 55.40 will be tough, but as her performance in Doha showed – it is far from impossible. Her outing in front of home fans in Auckland will be watched with interest.
Will we witness a sub-two-minute 800m?
A quality field has been assembled for the women’s 800m led by rising Aussie star Catriona Bisset. The 25 year old made a huge breakthrough in 2019, lowering the 43 year old Australian 800m record, with a 1:58.78 performance at the London Diamond League, and striking gold at the World University Games. Bolstering the Australian challenge is 18 year old sensation Keely Small (2:00.81), the 2018 Youth Olympic Games champion. The Kiwi assault is also strong, led by Rio Olympian Angie Petty, who won at this this meeting in 2016. Reigning New Zealand champion Katherine Camp, who claimed victory in January’s Potts Classic, will also be a contender. Many elements have to align, but a sub-two-minute 800m is not mission impossible.
What can Valerie throw on her return to Auckland?
Dame Valerie Adams made a successful return to competition in Hastings last month. After an 18 month break, with her son Kepaleli being born in March last year, she secured the Olympic qualification mark with a throw of 18.65m. The two-time Olympic medallist and legend of the sport has always been a crowd favourite at this meet, but a top quality international field has been assembled, led by Canada’s Brittany Crew, who finished eighth at last year’s World Championships final, and who boasts a personal best of 19.28m. Also in the field is New Zealand’s World U20 champion Maddison Wesche. The Aucklander, with a PB of 18.32m, will relish competing in front of her fans and will have half-an-eye on the Olympic qualifying standard of 18.50m.
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