Northern trio zeroing in on Zatopek meeting

THREE of the state's most talented runners will test themselves on the national stage at the prestigious Zatopek meeting in Melbourne tomorrow night.

State 10,000-metre champion Josh Harris will run in the Australian 10,000m championship named in honour of the 1952 Helsinki Olympics champion Emil Zatopek, while Jacob Birtwhistle and James Hansen will line-up in the under-20, 3000m, named in honour of former Australian marathon champion Rob De Castella.

The Launceston trio will be joined by Hobart's Grant Page, who will run in the Landy Mile and brother and sister Hugh and Claudia Nicklason, who will compete in the 3000m and 800m respectively.

Harris, 22, will have his second tilt at the Zatopek 10,000m after finishing 17th last year in a world quality field.

``There's 23 in the field including six internationals again this year but I'm hoping to finish a few places higher and around the 10th Australian mark would be really good,'' he said.

``If the conditions are good I really want to run 29 minutes.

``I haven't broken 30 yet and it's been bugging me for a long time and hopefully Saturday is the night.''

Harris has a goal to debut in a marathon late next year and said he was in good shape to break his personal best 10-kilometre time of 30.23.

Hansen, 19, is the state 800 and 1500m champion and will step up to the longer 3000m distance for only the third time in his Zatopek debut.

``I ran 8.23 in only my second race over the distance in October so I'd like to run a PB and get under 8.20.

``I will start focusing on the shorter stuff after this but I thought it was a good thing to aim for after doing a few more miles in training with Josh this year and it's a prestigious race for someone my age.''

Hansen said he planned to compete in more national series races this season over his more preferred distances and wanted to record good times with the aim of heading to a US college next year.

Birtwhistle, 17, an Australian junior 1500 and 3000m champion and world cross-country championship gold medallist, came fifth in the junior 3km at the Zatopek last year and is hoping to improve on that.

``The four that beat me are out of the race this year because they are too old so hopefully I should be up there with a chance,'' he said.

``I ran a big personal best over 5km two weeks ago before getting a bit sick last week before the national all-schools in Hobart.

``If I can run that time again I should be able to get a good PB.''

Birtwhistle continues to juggle elite running with triathlons and is heading to the Gold Coast for training and racing after the Melbourne meeting.

``I want to do the national junior triathlon series over summer and try to keep up with some athletics races and hopefully do the national track juniors in March if I can make it.''

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