Faithful rewarded with feast of action

THE Christmas carnivals have had a makeover but sadly so far it has apparently not been sufficiently glamorous enough to attract the spectators in big numbers back to the old Tasmanian icon.

But those who have shown faith in one of the state's most enduring treasures have been rewarded.

The concept of the indoor mile in Launceston last night was clever but as it turned out nowhere near as smart as the skills that home-town boy Jake Birtwhistle produced to beat the Kenyans at what they do best.

Birtwhistle is still juggling triathlon and athletics, with the three- discipline sport likely to win out, at least in the short term.

But in the past month, still short of his nineteenth birthday in six days' time, he has won the nation's most prized under 20 middle distance race, the Rob de Castella 3000 metres, and outfoxed a pack of Kenyans over a mile indoors.

This was no mean effort. Birtwhistle's great strength as an athlete is his stride length - of absolutely no assistance whatsoever to him last night in a race that was six laps to the mile on a slippery surface designed as a service lane for cycling races.

Within the first 400 metres, the visitors predictably adopted the up- the-front pack technique affectionately known throughout the world as distance running Kenyan- style, designed to either scare off the opposition or, if that fails, to block any attempts to take the lead.

Yet none of that fazed the local man, who bided his time a few metres adrift until the bell and then again 80m on when on the tight bend the Africans went three-wide. But the short back straight appeared all that he needed to skip clear.

But even then the experienced Elijah Kiptoo was not yet done, and keeping the rail position forced the younger man to run wide again and work even harder to take a most unexpected victory.

Whenever Birtwhistle can manage his program to dabble in mainstream athletics, whether it be on the track or the road, he will make an impression just as he did last night.

Fortunately for him his two chosen sports are not mutually exclusive and he may yet emerge as a real star in both. However that manifests itself, it will be important to remember that up until now, at least, his skill development and progress have been largely home-grown - real role model stuff for those who doubt that anyone can make it from Tasmania.

And he's not alone of course, with another local teenager, world junior cycling champion Lauren Perry, setting a personal best for the individual pursuit in a solo ride that thrilled the diehard crowd.

But the real big get for the carnivals has been the quality of the male cyclists assembled. This collection is super good and clearly already in pretty fine shape.

Jack Bobridge has shown it's not all about road cycling these days, returning to the track with skills intact as if he'd never stopped.

His Launceston Wheel win equalled the fastest time ever off scratch in the event, set by Olympic madison champion Brett Aitken in 1996.

The wheel race controversy at Latrobe brought back memories of days gone by, but with Alex Edmondson's eloquence and Franco Marvulli's humble sporting qualities replacing the fisticuffs that might have accompanied such an occurrence in the past.

And the even better news is that there is still time at Devonport today and tomorrow and at Burnie on New Year's Day to witness first-hand a pretty impressive renewal and revival of something generations of Tasmanians have held so dear.

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