The first Area Permit Meeting of 2021 in Australia is the Zatopek Classic. Traditionally held in December, this meet has been shifted to the Australia Day holiday of January 26 due to covid-19 concerns. The longest running meeting in Oceania, the 2021 January edition will be the 59th running of the meeting.
This year’s edition will once again play out at Hagenauer Reserve in Box Hill. A late timetable switch has seen the Women’s 10,000m Race being given top billing and will be the final event of the night, an historical first for the Zatopek meeting.
The 400m Hurdles will start the program, with a strong local contingent in the Men’s field, lead by Fraser Symons and Luke Major. If the full field gets to the start line in the Women’s race, it should be Sara Klein, an Australian representative at Doha 2019, who should win comfortably.
In the Men’s 800m, Jeff Riseley on paper is the main attraction in this race. The two-time Olympian has recently switched coaches to Justin Rinaldi, who beat Jeff to the Victorian title on the MCG in 2006. Jack Lunn will look to make it difficult for Riseley, and is on recent form, the favorite, running a Victorian Milers Club Record of 1.47.79 on the 14th of January. The 19 year old, who will miss out on the World Under 20 champs due to rescheduling, will be looking to make an impact in his first full Senior season.
Australian Record Holder Catriona Bissett is entered in the Women’s 800, where she will face Brittany Kaan (nee McGowan), a 2xCommonwealth Games representative in 2014 & 18. Both have raced this season, with Kaan winning the 800m at the Victorian Milers Club meet, and Bissett finishing 3rd over 1500m.
The Ondieki 3000m and De Castella 3000m races are named after two of Oceania’s finest distance runners. Both are Sport Australia Hall of Fame Members and two-time Commonwealth Games Marathon Champions. These races see the best junior talent Australia has to offer go head to head. Entries usually limited to under 20 participants, it acts a pseudo–National Championships, with 800m runners through to cross countries entering the race. This year, the race will allow those born in 2001 to enter due to the postponement of the meeting, though they will not be eligible to set the race record.
The Men’s 3000m will feature up and coming Tasmanian distance runner, and race favourite, Sam Clifford. Clifford has taken all before him in the Junior ranks, and it has seen him represent Australia at the World Cross Country in Denmark. Victorian duo Adam Spencer and Ed Marks will be there to keep him honest, but this race can throw up surprises, as most young men would love to see their name on the winners list.
The Women’s 3000m, can often be a spread-out affair, with usually a strong favorite taking the pace early. Abby Caldwell looks to be that favorite in 2021. She has represented Australia twice at Junior level, at the World Under 20 at 1500m in 2018, and then again in 2019 at the World Cross Country Championships.
The Men’s 1500m should be a fast race, and with Joseph Deng down to pace, the strong field will be strung out in the hope for some fast times. At the top of the field will be Ryan Gregson, who, until recently, the Australian 1500m record holder. He made the final of the 1500m at the Rio Olympic Games, and will looking to be back there again in Tokyo. Training partner Jordan Williamsz will be in the mix, as well as Deng’s training partners Peter Bol and Brad Mathas.
The Women’s 1500m, like the Men’s, will be led by a former National Record holder in the 1500m. Linden Hall, who made a coaching switch in 2020, will be looking to start off the Olympic Year with a win. The field is strong, with fellow Olympian Jenny Blundell, as well as Youth Olympic Games Gold medalist Keely Small providing plenty of depth.
Whilst traditionally a track heavy meeting, this year’s Zatopek includes some great action in the field. The Men’s and Women’s Pole Vault is named after Box Hill’s own Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Hooker. Hooker began his athletics journey at the Box Hill Club, and finished it there, returning in 2014 to run at the Victorian Shield Final for Box Hill in the 200m and 4x100m, his last competitive outings in athletics.
The Men’s Long Jump is the standout field event, with three men entered with person bests over 8 meters. Darcy Roper began his year in 2020 with a personal best effort of 8.20m in Canberra on the 25th of January, and he will be hoping for something similar on the 26th of January 2021. He won’t have the competition all his own way, with training partners Chris Mitrevski and Henry Smith also entered. The three Jumpers, coached by Johnny Boas, a nuclear physicist by trade, are just the current crop in several great Australian Long jumpers coached by Boas. These include Gary Honey, Ian Campbell and David Culbert to name just a few.
And lastly of course, the main attraction, the race which the meeting has been built around. The 10,000m.
These races double as the Australian 10,000m Championships. If we look at the Area Top Lists, many an athlete’s personal best of 10,000m has come from the Zatopek Classic with 14 of the top 50 men, and 25 of the top 50 women.
The Men’s race will be headlined by three former winners Stewert McSweyn, Brett Robinson, and David McNeil. McSweyn has taken all before him over the past twelve months and will enter the race as favorite. It won’t be down to just those three runners though, with rising Marathoner Jack Rayner and 2016 Olympian (5000m) Sam Mcentee also on the entry list.
The Women’s 10,000m rightly so has top billing, and scheduled to go off at 7:40pm local time when conditions should be great for 25 laps of the Box Hill track. Some of Australia and Oceania’s finest female distance runners will start this race. Last year’s winner Genevie Gregson, Marathoners and top 16 place getters from the Doha World Championships 10,000m Ellie Pashley and Sinead Diver. Up and coming runners Rose Davies, Lauren Ryan, Izzy Batt-Doyle and Nat Rule, Canadian Andrea Seccafien, and Olympic Marathoner Jess Stenson. With a fast pace set to be run for the first half of the race, the Olympic standard of 31 minutes and 25 seconds will be the goal of all girls in the race. Ellie Pashley is currently the only lady in the field with the standard, but with many capable of running the time, it should set for an enthralling finish to a great meeting.