By Len Johnson
Australian decathlete Cedric Dubler’s encouragement of his teammate Ashley Moloney during the closing stages of the Tokyo Olympic decathlon has been acknowledged as an iconic moment in Olympic sport.
With Moloney needing to run fast enough in the 1500 metres – a middle-distance event for the specialists, a gruelling test for multi-eventers, yet alone as the conclusion of two days’ competition – to secure the bronze medal, Dubler yelled encouragement at him around the final bend.
Moloney heard Dubler’s voice “bouncing around my cranium like a bat out of hell.” The action has recently been acknowledged by the Australian Olympic Committee with a special award.
On Saturday night at the Australian championships in Sydney, Dubler was the one in need of motivation in the closing stages of the 1500. Automatic world championships selection would go to those who won the title in their event and achieved, or had already achieved, the World Athletics qualifying standard, 8350 points in the case of the decathlon.
Dubler had the win in his pocket after a stunning first day 4478 points. He avoided the pitfalls in the 110 metres hurdles, the discus, the pole vault with its ever-present nightmare of a ‘no height’ and the javelin. Only the 1500 remained, an event multi-eventers like about as much as root canal dental surgery, and he had four minutes and 41 seconds to get it done.
On the final bend, Dubler needed some inspiration. But the spark had to come from within. Moloney was not competing, there was no competitive threat, and he was a clear and isolated second. He dug deep, he found it and finished in 4:37.48, for 696 points and a final tally of 8393. Job done, title won and a place in the team of Oregon 2022 secured.
Only three Australians had clinched a spot in the first three days of the senior championships – Ollie Hoare in the 1500 metres, Nina Kennedy in the pole vault and Matt Denny in the discus. Dubler and six others added their names to the list on the final night.
Joining Dubler in taking the chance for selection at this first opportunity were Olympic silver medallist Nicola McDermott in the high jump, Tokyo fourth placegetter Peter Bol in the 800 metres, pole vaulter Kurtis Marschall, Catriona Bisset in the 800, Jessica Hull in the 5000 and Liz Clay in the 100 hurdles.
In addition, distance runner Jack Rayner has already clinched selection in the 10,000 metres, along with 20km walkers Declan Tingay and Jemima Montag. Their national titles were decided separately.
The rankings system has made qualification for the world championships an extended process of more and more athletes. Those with any doubt as to what certainty means to an athlete would have had them dispelled if they had heard the series of roars unleashed by Liz Clay after she won the 100 hurdles in 12.72.
But the race of the night – indeed, perhaps the race of the championships – came at the very last in the women’s 5000 metres. That there is a bit of depth now to Australian track middle and long-distances is well-known. This field boasted Olympic representatives Rose Davies, Issey Batt-Doyle and Jenny Blundell, Olympic 1500 finalist Hull and Britain’s Calli Thackery.
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Another Olympian, Eloise Wellings, took the pace out for six laps with a series of 72-second laps. Batt-Doyle took up the lead then, the pace slowing, but only marginally. At 4000 metres, a final kilometre of anything under three minutes was required to better the automatic standard of 15:10.00. Sadly, Batt-Doyle was the only one of what was then the leading group to miss out.
Hull, a finalist at 1500 in Tokyo, began to turn the screws some 50o metres out. At the bell, she needed only a 71-second final circuit to secure the win. She did better than that, finishing almost 10 metres clear of Davies, 15:06.13 to 15:07.49. Thackery was third in 15:09.08, a second the right side of the standard; Natalie Rule came from the clouds to grab fourth in 15:10.24 with the gallant Batt-Doyle next in 15:10.97.
Like Liz Clay, Catriona Bisset gave her opponents no chance in the women’s 800. Taking the first lap in around 57.8 seconds, she continued to increase her lead through the third 200 and up the final straight to record 1:59.83, some three seconds clear of Claudia Hollingsworth who is still some few days away from her seventeenth birthday.
Though his 1:48.78 was modest, Bol, too, was a class ahead of his opposition. After a pedestrian first lap of around 55.5 seconds, Bol gradually drew away from his rivals to win from fellow-Tokyo representative Charlie Hunter and New Zealand’s Brad Mathas.
In her first competition of the year, McDermott won at 1.94 before failing three times at 1.98. World indoor championships silver medallist Eleanor Patterson was a late withdrawal with a minor foot injury. McDermott clinched a place in the team for Oregon; Patterson will assuredly join her in time.
Marschall made his journey to the pole vault title a little more exciting than it needed to be with two misses at his opening height of 5.40. By way of balancing the ledger, one of his attempts at 5.80 was close. But a clearance at 5.60 ensured his win and passage to Eugene.
The championships continue for one more day but the only open events are relays. The first selections in the teams for Oregon are expected to be announced early next week, with only the automatic selections to be released in the first tranche.