Junior track-and-field maintains momentum

AT A TIME when traditional sports are being challenged to retain their relevance in the modern world of new-age events and other distractions, junior track and field in Australia has moments when it seems it is popular as ever.

The Australian Junior Championships, which conclude in Sydney this afternoon, are one - having attracted 2070 individual athletes competing in age groups from under 14 to under 20. For the first time at junior level, the able-bodied and para championships are being held together.

While the championships have the added incentive for the very best athletes by including the selection trials for the World Junior (under 20) Championships and the Youth (under 18) Olympic Games, both to be staged later this year, there is no doubt that they are also attracting a much wider audience.

The best are aiming for the victory dais and those immediate representative honours, but the majority are seeking personal bests in the short term and valuable competition experience to place them in good stead for a long stay in the sport.

Many events have been of the very highest level both in terms of quantity and quality. Entries in the two oldest age groups indicate that the feared drain of talent to other sports is not as dramatic as may have been suggested.

Some of the current crop are simply outstanding. Queensland's Matt Denny, Sydney's Mackenzie Little and Victorian country girl Eleanor Patterson are all reigning world youth champions, having won those titles at last year's world championships in Donetsk in the Ukraine.

Denny is a prodigious talent in both hammer and discus and has spent the past four years accumulating an unchallenged set of national age and all-schools medals across those two events as well as the shot. He will soon have to specialise, such is the reality of international athletics, but for the meantime he excels in some and enjoys participation in the others.

The World Juniors will play a big role in the decisions he will make.

Patterson broke the world youth all time best in the high jump during the Australian All Schools in Townsville in December, clearing 1.96m. It means that right now she is both the leading junior in the world and the best of any age in the Commonwealth.

The problem for the Leongatha lass is that the World Juniors in Eugene, Oregon, in the US, finish the day that the athletics competition begins at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland - a not insignificant plane journey and six time zones away.

An added factor enters the equation when Denny, who has qualified for both, decides whether to do both because the implement weights are different for the junior and senior men.

Javelin thrower Little is academically strong and plans to study medicine. As a result, she will probably choose to miss any international opportunities in 2014 in order to concentrate on year 12 studies.

Tasmania has a talented team at the championships, with encouraging victories already to North-West blind athlete Emma Jago in the multi disability under 16 100 metres and Hobart's Julia Direen in the under 14 hammer.

Jacob Despard ran 10.63 in the 100 metres to break the state under 18, under 19 and under 20 records and to fall just seven- hundredths short of the open mark. As a result he forced himself into contention for the relay squad for Eugene.

Perhaps there will be even more good news before the curtain falls on the five-day meet this afternoon.

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