Athletics: Preston stars with breakthrough 800 at Porritt

By Steve Landells

Teenager James Preston made a huge breakthrough to take a stunning victory in a thrilling men's 800m which produced a slew of PB's at the Porritt Classic.

The 18-year-old New Zealand Secondary Schools champion out-kicked New Zealand champion Brad Mathas down the home stretch to take the unexpected win in 1:48.92 - a PB by more than three seconds.

To further put into context the quality of the display produced by the Wellington Harrier is he comfortably dipped under the qualification mark for the World Junior Championships and also come within 0.19 of the New Zealand Junior record held by Jason Stewart.

Behind an elated Preston, four-time New Zealand 1500m champion Hamish Carson grabbed second in 1:49.61 with the fading Mathas third in 1:49.80. Napier's much improved Eric Speakman also hacked more than three seconds from his lifetime best to take fourth in 1:50.54.

Preston admits he was "stoked" with the win and adds: "I am pretty tired but a bit shocked.

I didn't quite expect to go that fast as we thought I would go maybe low 1:51s or high 1:50s," adds Preston, who is coached by Evan Cooper.

His performance is even more impressive after the teenager took a week out last month with a suspected stress reaction and then two weeks ago suffered the horror of collapsing and being hospitalised while out on a training run.

"I was about ten minutes into the training run neat Basin Reserve when I collapsed," he says. "The next thing I remember was waking up in an ambulance. It is a bit confusing as to what happened and I need to have some more tests. Last week I went for a 600m time trial and the signs were good I could compete this weekend."

A late surge from Fiona Morrison helped deliver a narrow victory from Rochelle Coster in a compelling 100m hurdles battle. Coster held sway for most of the race but Morrison finished strongly off the final hurdle to edge the win by 0.02 in 13.46 (+1.3m/s).

It was a noteworthy performance from the Christchurch athlete, who recorded her lifetime best of 13.42 at this same meeting two years ago, but who last year was sidelined for much of the domestic season with a stress fracture of the shin.

"I was starting to catch Rochelle over the last three hurdles but I wasn't sure whether I'd got it," says Morrison, 27. "I'm just pleased to be back to the form I was in before I got injured (last year). I'm happy to be back racing again and showing that kind of form."

Morrison now hopes to maintain and improve upon on her current form in coming weeks where she is aiming for a PB and a residents' record - which currently stand at 13.34 by Andrea Miller.

Louise Jones was rewarded with a season's best of 53.91 with a dominant victory in the women's 400m. The Pukekohe-based athlete, who took six months break from school teaching last year to prepare for this season, cruised to an easy victory and was delighted with the performance.

"I am a lot happier today than I was for the Auckland Champs last week (when she ran a time of 54.93)" says Jones, who is targeting both the New Zealand and Australian Championships next month. "I've made a few adjustments in the last week and it has obviously worked."

Brooke Cull of Takapuna claimed second in 56.06 with Ariana Harper (Wellington Scottish) third in 56.76.

Julia Ratcliffe was below her best in the women's hammer but claimed a comfortable victory with a leading toss of 66.71m. The Hamilton-based athlete, who is pursuing an Olympic nomination standard (the A standard is 72.60m and the B standard is 71.00) says the heat may have slightly taken the edge of her today but she moves on to next week's Waikato Bay of Plenty Championships here at Porritt Stadium next week confident of a better showing. Nicole Bradley (Taieri) placed second with a best of 57.89m with teenager Lauren Bruce (South Canterbury) claiming third with 56.06m - more than two metres shy of the World Junior qualification standard.

- NZ Herald

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