Runners off and racing at Zatopek

THREE of Tasmania's best endurance runners head into tonight's prestigious Zatopek Classic in Melbourne with contrasting goals.

While James Hansen and Hugh Nicklason are seeking early-season form gauges after impressive performances this week, Jake Birtwhistle switches sporting focus with his sights firmly set on victory.

``Last year I came third so I'm hoping to improve on that,'' said Birtwhistle, who is seeking to improve on the Tasmanian record of 8:09.12 he set in the under-20 3000 metres.

``I'd be very happy with 8:05. To get a win would be good but I'm not sure how the time will go because tactics could play a part in that.

``Training is going well so if the race is quick I should be OK to go with the pace.''

The Western Suburbs 18-year-old continues to juggle sports having become both a triathlon Youth Olympic gold medallist and Tasmanian 10-kilometre champ this year. Tasmania's under-18 male athlete of year admitted this has altered his preferred distance.

``I don't think 1500m would be my favourite any more. With focusing more on triathlons I am moving towards the 5000 I have to do for that.

``But I was a bit disappointed with my 5000m at the Victorian champs a few weeks ago and am looking forward to getting back on the track.''

Nicklason, 17, of Hobart's Eastern Suburbs, will be looking to better his 3000m personal best of 8:35 set in this race last year and is fresh off third and fifth places at the national all-schools in Townsville.

``My training's been a bit inconsistent recently so I'll just be trying to run a PB,'' he said. 

``I'd like to go mid 8:20s. Last year's pace here was really quick and it got to me but I learned a lot about pack running. It's a fairly big field every year and was a lot different to anything I've done before.''

Hansen, Tasmania's under-20 male and distance athlete of year, will run the open 800m fresh from finishing second to David Thomas in Sunday's state 5km road titles in Launceston.

``My preferred distance would still be 1500m and I'm a bit more serious in that so I feel I can relax more in 800s and 5ks and see where I am at,''  North Launceston's state 800 and 1500m champ said.

``I guess because they are either side of it, if both are going well I should be in good 1500m shape.''

Hansen, 20, who will target his 1:52 PB set at the state championships, will run miles at the Launceston and Devonport carnivals before a training camp at Falls Creek.

Athletics Tasmania executive officer Brian Roe will be at Lakeside Ovalatn Albert Park for a meeting that has a cherished position on the national athletics calendar.

``The Zatopek Classic is a time-honoured event,'' he said. ``It kicks off the national athletics series and is traditionally a middle and long-distance meet where athletes can check their early-season form.''

Former Riverside athlete Karinna Fyfe, who now studies in Melbourne, will run the women's 10,000m.

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