History proves event can launch careers

THE Briggs Athletics Classic celebrates its 25th edition in Hobart on Saturday.

In the past a sporting event celebrating a silver anniversary was hardly a cause for even a mention, after all, the Longford Cup, the Burnie Gift, the Latrobe Wheel and Hobart Regatta have all been keeping on for more than 100 years.

But to keep an event going these days is a very much harder ask.

And, as it happens, the Briggs Classic is Australia's longest surviving circuit athletics meet, pre-dating by 12 months the country's only full status international event, the IAAF World Challenge in Melbourne.

When Terry Dwyer first staged the meet in 1987, his idea was to try in a small way to replicate the great relay competitions that dominate the US track and field scene in April each year.

But it was hard to convince a conservative Australian athletic community, which traditionally had favoured individual over team competition. The meet accordingly morphed into something more akin to the secondary tiers of the European circuit and over time has drawn some fine competitors both from Australia and overseas.

Its meet records list is impressive. In the heady days of the 1990s, in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics, the meet played host to a steady array of internationals keen to get some Down Under competition experience before the Games.

But it was also the playground of a steadily emerging batch of Aussie stars, inspired by the chance to make the most of a home Olympics. Melinda Gainsford Taylor and Cathy Freeman came year after year, keen to race each other and build their growing reputations.

Gainsford Taylor set a national 200-metre record of 22.32 at the meet in 1994, a time only she and Freeman have subsequently bettered anywhere. Freeman ran 50.96 for the 400m at the beginning of her personal best-setting Olympic year in 1996, after Kerry Junna Saxby had set a world record for the 5000m walk earlier in the day.

Then, like now, it was a time for a changing of the guard in Australian athletics.

On Saturday, it will be the women 1500m runners who will take centre stage. Zoe Buckman was the revelation of the Australian team at last year's World Championships in Moscow.

She terrified her supporters with some daring running in the heats and semis, before finishing a bold seventh in the final. Her ability to run fast over the last 400m of the three and three- quarter laps when many are tiring means that Buckman has the potential to be a contender for higher honours in the immediate future.

And this is one of the few distance races that is not dominated by the Africans.

Buckman is keen to begin her Australian season with a bang and her new-found status means that there are plenty of others keen to take her on. Two rising talents of Holland and Ireland respectively - Susan Kuijken and Laura Crowe - have come to Australia to train and race and will both be in Hobart to race the Australian and her rapidly improving countrywomen at the distance.

All new names but just as history shows, there's a good reason to get to know them.


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