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Olympic athletics team takes shape

5 March 2012

Resurgent Craig Mottram provided the perfect denouement to the Australian Olympic track and field trials, booking his place on a fourth successive Games team.

By blowing away former training partner Collis Birmingham in the final half-lap of a 5000m he won in 13 minutes 18.58 seconds, the 31-year-old Mottram became one of five Australians to put their Olympic selection beyond doubt at the trials.

Athletics Australia national high performance manager Eric Hollingsworth was in no doubt about the significance of the big Victorian's run.

"For Craig that's an unbelievable result," said Hollingsworth.

"What he did in the race against Collis was tantamount to Mottram re-establishing himself in our psyche that he is the No.1 man over 5000m.

"And once he has that confidence behind him, we then know with the right training and the right progress he's one of the rare distance athletes that can shake it up with the Africans."

The other four Australians to satisfy the strict automatic qualifying criteria over two cool, and at times wet, nights at Melbourne's Lakeside Stadium were triple jumper Henry Frayne, steeplechaser Youcef Abdi, 400m hurdler Brendan Cole and Jeff Riseley in the 800m.

With Sally Pearson and Mitchell Watt heading a group of eight already pre-selected by virtue of their performances at last year's world championships - plus a host of walkers - as many as 30 athletes could get the nod when the bulk of the London team is named on Monday or Tuesday.

The balance would be made up by those who had previously bettered the A standard and finished first or second in their event at the trials.

"The whole idea of having the trials at this time of the year is to give people some certainty so they can train and prepare for the big Games in August," said Hollingsworth.

"There's been no movement from that philosophy from my point of view.

"That's how I've been directing and instructing all athletes, coaches and selectors and everyone around them.

"I want my guys to go back into training and get ready for the big deal."

That sounds like good news for the likes of 2009 discus world champion Dani Samuels, new pole vault national record holder Alana Boyd and middle-distance duo Kaila McKnight and Zoe Buckman, who were separated by only one-tenth of a second in the 1500m in Melbourne.

Hollingsworth is confident the Australian track and field team for the London Games will eventually number more than 40, taking into account performances up to the cut-off in mid-June.

That would include as many as three relay squads, with the consistent men's 4x400m squad again shaping as the best of the bunch.

The biggest two names who won't figure in the initial team named this week are defending Olympic pole vault gold medallist Steve Hooker and two-time 400m hurdles world champion Jana Pittman.

Hooker is training hard but won't return to competition until he is mentally ready to do so, having struggled for confidence.

Pittman faces an even tougher road, having sustained yet another foot injury last month.

"She's got some work to do," said Hollingsworth.

"She's got to have the gods on her side.

"She's going to attempt to start running again on Monday, after this latest plantar fascia problem, and we'll know more when we got a response from her."

Highly-credentialled trials winners John Steffensen (400m) and Ryan Gregson (1500m) have also yet to reach the qualifying standard, but their performances over the last couple of days suggest they should get the job done by the June cut-off.

John Salvado

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