Students claim three national titles

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By Graham Croker

Three Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness Scholarship holders won national titles at the 2008 Australian Track and Field Championships in Brisbane at the weekend.

Hurdler Justin Merlino and middle-distance runners Lachlan Renshaw and Nikki Molan did the Sydney University Athletics Club proud when they triumphed at the championships, which doubled as the 2008 Olympic Trials.

SUAC spokesman Dean Gleeson said the three titles provided the club with its best championships in the past 30 years. “There were a number of great performances but the three outstanding achievements came for the three winners of their respective events, Lachlan Renshaw in the 800m, Justin Merlino in the 110m hurdles and Nikki Molan in the women’s 1500m,” he said.

Renshaw was the favourite for the men’s 800m after running the fastest time on Australian soil in nearly 10 years at a Grand Prix meet the week before in Melbourne.

He ran an Olympic ‘A’ qualifying time of 1:45.8s in Melbourne, putting pressure on the selectors to pick him for the Beijing Olympics if he backed up the performance at the Australian Championships.

And that’s exactly what he did.

The race unfolded simply enough with the Kenyan athlete Luke Kibet going to the front and taking the field through 300m at a ridiculously fast pace. Kibet tired at 450m and Renshaw moved past to take the lead and run to the finish line unchallenged. The time was not as quick as Melbourne but conditions in Brisbane for the Nationals were far from ideal.

“The selectors will meet tomorrow (Wednesday) to select the next wave of athletes for the Australian Olympic team and Renshaw’s name will hopefully be on that list,” Gleeson said.

Merlino had not lost to an Australian during the domestic season, so it was no surprise for him to take out the 110m hurdles,” Gleeson said.

“He has been the dominant force in this event for more than 12 months,” he said. “Getting a fast start, he ran stylishly to the finish claiming his second consecutive national title. All eyes at the finish were on the clock because a time of 13.55s would give him the Olympic A qualifier.

“However, he posted 13.72s into a stiff headwind, an Olympic B qualifier. Like for so many others on the weekend the conditions turned out to be his nemesis. A slight tailwind would have seen him post an Olympic A qualifier. That said, he still achieved the B standard and will travel to Japan and Europe in the coming month in an attempt to secure the mark he has come so close to this season.”

Molan had to beat Olympic and World Championships representative Georgie Clarke and 2007 World Championship representative and defending national champion Lisa Corrigan to claim the 2008 women’s 1500m crown.

Clark moved to front at 400m and opened up a 30m lead. Molan led the chase pack and with 450m to go Corrigan passed her and set off after Clarke. With about 150m to go Molan passed Corrigan and set sail after Clarke, passing her with 50m to go. With the fast-finishing New Zealand athlete Nicole Hamblyn flashing down the outside, Molan narrowly held on to win her first national title.

“It was a major breakthrough for her and should give her a good platform to build on in future years,” Gleeson said.

“All in all they were great championships for the Sydney University Athletic Club. Our best wishes go out to Lachlan Chisolm, who had to pull out of the final of the men’s 1500m with an injury. He was one of the favourites and looked impressive in the heats.”