The athletics competition at the sixth Australian Youth Olympic Festival, commencing next week in Sydney Australia, will have a strong contingent of international athletes competing against the two Australian teams. A regular entrant, China, have again sent a very strong team, along with Brazil and New Zealand.
The five day multi-sport festival for teenagers, first held in 2001, includes 1700 athletes from 30 nations in 17 sports. It was a forerunner to the IOC Youth Olympics which were inaugurated in 2010.
The Chinese team will be very competitive across the 40 events on the program, but one athlete stands out, Jianan Wang, from the western Chinese province of Jiangsu. Last September, Jianan, 16, won his national senior long jump title with a stunning leap of 8.04 metres. His jump was the longest in the world for an under-18 athlete.
He first came to the attention of the athletic world as a decathlete when he scored 7063 points in April 2012. That decathlon included impressive marks in the 100m 10.88, pole vault 5.00m and of course long jump - 7.80 metres.
The AYOF long jump field will boast another quality Chinese athlete with Yaoqing Fang, a 7.68m athlete, competing. The entry of Jianan and Yaoqing in the men?s long jump is tremendous news for inform Australian Henry Smith, the current national schools champion.
?My preparation for the AYOF has been solid, especially for long jump as recently I was able to jump 7.64m in windy conditions. My hopes for the competition would be of course to get a medal! But even just competing at the AYOF is an honour,? Smith said.
The Melbourne athlete, who is coached by Vic McFarlane and Cathy Woodruff, is excited about his international debut.
?I feel blessed to be able to represent Australia in my first international competition, and against such strong Chinese competitors. I've been hearing about them for a while! However I'll also make sure to give these two China athletes a strong competition, and of course I'll also be trying to achieve my ambition there,? said the talented all round jumper, who will also compete in the high jump, where he boosts a personal best of 2.10 metres.
?Hope, determination, and willpower, these are the basic things to achieve my goal at the AYOF.?
The women?s 100m hurdles looks a great battle between three of the world?s top-10 16-year-old athletes. On paper Queenslander Aliyah Johnson (AUS) is the fastest with her 13.88 time recorded in March, which ranked her No 6 in the world last year. Just 0.01 behind is Sydney?s Katrina Hunt (AUS) with 13.89. China?s Yun Zheng will be in the mix in a very close race, with her best time of 13.92, recorded when she won her national age championship in Yantai in China last July. Brazil?s Lais Rodrigues will also be in the medal hunt, with her national under-18 championships winning time of 14.09.
The 100m hurdles AYOF Record of 14.01 seconds set into a strong -2.9m headwind in 2003, by none other than 2012 Olympic champion Sally Pearson, is under threat.
Hunt has had an unusual preparation for the festival. In December she spent three weeks in Africa, climbing Tanzania?s Mount Meru, on safari, working in a local school and relaxing on an island in the Zanzibar archipelago.
She described her selection in the Australian team to compete in the festival as ``a wonderful Christmas present.??
``It?s going to be so cool. The competition will be unbelievable but I?ll give it my best shot.??
Hunt also will contest the 100m in which she has a pb of 12.03 and the 4x100m relay.
A talented all-rounder Aliyah Johnson will also compete in the long jump and relays.
?It'll be awesome competing against such talent. I've been jumping and hurdling well in training, so hopefully that pays off in the competition. I?d love to come home with some medals and hopefully my world youth qualifiers,? Johnson, who trains with Olympic medallist Mitchell Watt in their Brisbane squad said.
Johnson needs to clock 13.75 (100 hurdles) and leapt 5.95m (long jump) for the 2013 World Youth (Under 18) standards.
?It will be my first international competition. Hopefully it will give me experience on what it is like to be on the big stage and help me to learn about myself and how I compete at such a level. It will be great preparation if I?m successful in making the world youth team.?
There will be another tremendous clash in the men?s hammer, between two of the world?s best junior throwers. Queenslander, Matty Denny (AUS), the world number two 16-year-old last year, takes on New Zealand?s world number six ranked athlete Matthew Bloxham.
?There would be not even one slight bit of rivalry between him and I,? Denny said.
?We have competed against each other twice and also trained together. He?s a top bloke and has worked incredibly hard to get to where he is. I am excited for this competition together, hoping to be a good one and also a good catch up. I wish him the best of luck.?
Denny knows his superior personal best won?t ensure victory.
?Anything can happen and you never know what is going to happen in the competition on the day, but my hopes are to do my best. My preparation has been great and I am very pleased with it going into the AYOF. I?m quite confident. I have put a huge amount of effort into my athletics and I hope it will pay off this year.?
The athletics competition at the AYOF will be conducted on January 18 and 19, held at the Sydney Olympic Park Athletic Centre at Homebush.
David Tarbotton and Ron Bendall for Athletics NSW
Image: Katrina Hunt (courtesy of David Tarbotton)