Athletics: Hamblin eager to tread the intimidating path

By Andrew Alderson

Nikki Hamblin. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
Nikki Hamblin. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

New Zealand middle distance runner Nikki Hamblin welcomes the chance to compete against controversial South African 800m world champion Caster Semenya at the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

Semenya returned to the track last week in an 800m race in Finland after being stood down from competition in sensational circumstances while the International Athletics Federation (IAAF) investigated her gender.

It followed a series of dramatic time improvements, which led to her world championship victory in Berlin last August. Semenya won her first return race and will compete in Finland again tomorrow (New Zealand time).

Semenya's return to international athletics has not been accompanied by any explanation or guidelines from the IAAF, the sport's governing body. Hamblin has some sympathy for Semenya's predicament.

She relishes the prospect of racing the world champion, preferably in the Delhi 800m final.

Hamblin intends to race both the 1500m and the 800m at Delhi. The longer event is earlier on the programme.

"I haven't met or raced against Caster previously. I've only ever seen her from across the warm-up track. I wouldn't single her out in particular [as an opponent].

"You have to avoid focusing on issues like that as an athlete. I'd be intimidated in the Commonwealth Games final by everyone on the start line, not just one athlete because they've all done amazing things. Intimidation can be good in some ways: it gives you the nerves and the adrenalin to compete hard."

Semenya won her first outing but clocked 2m 04.22s, just under nine seconds slower than the personal best time she ran in Berlin. Hamblin's 800m best is 2m 00.9s, which she ran last year. That ranks her 10th among Commonwealth athletes this year.

Hamblin's best chance of a Delhi medal still appears to be the 1500m where she set a national record last week of 4m 05.93s in Belgium. It broke Toni Hodgkinson's 10-year-old record by 0.3s.

The 22-year-old's new mark is likely to have beaten the qualifying standard for next year's world championships in Korea but is just the sixth best time by a Commonwealth athlete in the distance this year, five seconds off the best.

British-born Hamblin, who qualified via residency last year, ranks as New Zealand's best middle distance hope for a podium finish since Hodgkinson.

Anne Audain won New Zealand's last Commonwealth medal in a pure track event with silver in the 10,000m at Edinburgh in 1986 although Joanne Henry secured bronze in the heptathlon at Kuala Lumpur in 1998. Lorraine Moller was the last to win a medal in the 1500m with bronze at Brisbane in 1982.

Hamblin is hoping her agent can secure a few more starts in Europe leading into the Games after last week's strong showing. She will rest with family in Weymouth on England's south coast before resuming training.

- Herald on Sunday

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